Thursday marked a year since the signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, which was an effort to salvage the peace process and reorient the country on to a path to reconciliation and stability.
This agreement was an attempt to revive another peace deal, signed in August 2015, which broke down in 2016 with the resumption of civil war. Since it began in 2013, the war has left about 400 000 people dead and displaced more than four million — almost a third of the population.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is chairperson of the African Union high-level ad hoc committee for South Sudan, which is a signatory to the current peace deal. Ramaphosa has a responsibility to speak to President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to ensure its full implementation.
South Africa has been an active partner of South Sudan since the young country’s formation as an independent state on July 12 2011.
When welcoming South Sudan as the 193rd member of the United Nations at the UN security council, former justice minister Jeff Radebe drew parallels between South Sudan’s struggle for independence and our anti-apartheid struggle, and pledged South Africa’s commitment to assisting “with all the means at our disposal”.
It can be tempting for South Africans to dismiss the obstacles of South Sudan as having little to do with us. In May, however, in his capacity as minister of energy, Radebe signed a deal for the exploration and production of oil in South Sudan as part of a $1-billion investment in the country. This makes South Africa a major investor there with a direct interest in the resolution of the conflict.
And the women from both countries are bound together by the scourge of sexual and gender-based violence that threatens their lives.
In the past two weeks, South Africans have confronted the reality of the danger facing women with a number of horrific attacks making headlines. Ramaphosa has pledged to address the violence through a number of criminal justice system reforms. The safety and security of African women should also be front and centre of our foreign policy.
Although the peace agreement has generated a decrease in the overall fighting, conflict-related sexual violence in South Sudan has spiked dramatically since the signing of the peace deal. A UN report shows that children are the victims in 25% of reported cases of sexual violence.
South African women have taken the lead by organising the #Mzansi4SouthSudan campaign, in solidarity with their sisters there. The movement demands that our government appoints a special envoy — an expert on sexual and gender-based violence — to help bring justice to survivors of sexual violence in South Sudan.
They have also asked South Africa to use its presidency of the UN security council in October to call for a hearing at which South Sudanese women will be able to testify and make recommendations to the UN.
Any attempt to address rising sexual violence requires the peace deal to be implemented in full and in good faith. Signatories have committed to form a transitional government by November 12.
With just two months to go, the opposing sides have made little progress on finalising all they had committed to accomplish by this date, including the cantonment of armed groups; the creation of a unified army; and agreement on security arrangements and on internal state boundaries. Ramaphosa and his government must therefore apply pressure on South Sudanese leaders to keep to their commitments.
An important step to this end is to persuade Kiir to expeditiously release the $100-million his government pledged towards the implementation of key outstanding provisions in the peace agreement that need to be undertaken before a transitional government can be formed.
Kiir’s government has only released $10-million so far.
Kiir and Machar took an important step forward towards implementing the peace deal when they met on September 9 in Juba, for the first time in nearly a year. This is an encouraging step to salvage the peace deal and work towards stability.
As the violence of the past few weeks has shown us, peace and security in South Africa is inextricably tied to the peace and security of the rest of the continent. Ramaphosa’s government must work with their counterparts in South Sudan to ensure that, when he takes up the chair of the African Union in 2020, South Sudan has a transitional government and is implementing the next phase of the peace agreement.
South Africa has a moral responsibility to use all the means at its disposal to assist the people of South Sudan to find lasting peace.
Dr Sithembile Mbete is a lecturer in the department of political sciences at the University of Pretoria and a board member of the Foundation for Human Rights.