/ 30 May 2023

Pandor grants diplomatic immunity to Brics conferences

Russian President Vladimir Putin Attends The Russia Africa Summit In Sochi
Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Vladimir Putin. File photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

International relations minister Naledi Pandor has signed off on diplomatic immunity for the Brics summit, which Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to attend. 

The government gazette the minister signed on 19 May states that, “in accordance with the powers vested in me by section 6(2) of the diplomatic immunities and privileges act, 2001, I hereby recognise the Brics ministerial meetings to be held in Cape Town, South Africa from 1 to 2 June 2023 and the 15th Brics summit to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 22 to 24 August for the purpose of granting the immunities and privileges provided for in section 6(1) of the said act as set out in the attached notice.” 

The act stipulates that officials and experts of the United Nations, of any specialised agency and of any organisation, and representatives of any state, participating in an international conference or meeting convened in the republic, will enjoy for the duration of the conference or meeting such privileges and immunities. 

The government notice published on Monday came just hours after deputy president Paul Mashatile announced that he was set to meet with the inter ministerial committee charged with looking at South Africa’s options for Putin’s visit. 

The International Crimes Court (ICC) in March issued a warrant of arrest for Putin, placing South Africa in a precarious position with its trade allies in the west. 

The department of international relations has said that granting immunities and privileges “is a standard conferment of immunities that we do for all international conferences and summits held in South Africa, irrespective of the level of participation”.

The immunities are for the conference and not specific individuals, according to the department.

“These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee at the conference,” said the department.

Pretoria has previously failed to act on its legal commitment to the ICC when since deposed Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir evaded arrest during Jacob Zuma’s presidency. The ICC had a standing warrant of arrest against Al Bashir. 

Speaking at the ANC’s national working committee’s (NWC) visit to the North West on Monday, Mashatile said that it would be looking into the arrest warrant in the coming days. 

The deputy president said that the world needs a “strong alternative” to the prevailing order, which had necessitated South Africa joining Brics. 

“As such we will be doing everything possible to ensure that Brics succeeds, while strengthening existing and future relations with the rest of the world, including dealing with the issue of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. 

“Together with the presidents of Zambia, Senegal, Egypt, and Congo Brazzaville, working together with the AU, we will be leading a delegation to both presidents Putin and [Ukraine president] Volodymyr Zelensky to find a lasting solution to the conflict in that part of the world.” 

“[President Ramaphosa] has asked me to chair that committee so that we can look at some of the issues that have been raised, including the issues affecting president Putin,” he said. 

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to attend the Brics foreign ministers meeting in Cape Town this week, where one insider said that Pretoria would again engage in high level talks about Putin’s visit. 

The Mail & Guardian previously reported that Lavrov allegedly rejected a proposal made by his South African counterpart, Pandor, for Putin to virtually attend the Brics leadership summit scheduled for August.

This week Russian News Agency Tass reported that its source said Russia has no intention of reneging on its plans to participate in the Brics summit. 

“The Russian leader has been invited. Active preparations for the summit are underway. Addressing any issues related to the ICC and so on is the prerogative of our partners [and hosts] in South Africa. The Russian President has not withdrawn his participation in the summit,” Tass reported  the source saying.

Earlier this month while addressing Parliament’s portfolio committee on international relations, Dirco director general Zane Dangor said that among the legal options explored by Mashatile’s committee, was that the arrest warrant for Putin did not come via the United Nations Security Council. 

South Africa’s relationship with the US, a key trade ally, has been strained since Pretoria assumed what it describes as a “non-aligned stance” in the Russian invasion of and war against Ukraine. 

This was exacerbated by recent public statements made by US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety that South Africa had sold arms to Russia. 

Defence Minister Thandi Modise has denied the allegation, while Ramaphosa has opted to investigate the allegations by way of an inquiry.

While Ramaphosa has opted for a more moderate response to the US’s allegations, he took a firmer position during Africa Day last week telling his allies that South Africa would not be “drawn into a contest between global powers”.

Ramaphosa said the continent was often dragged into conflicts far beyond its borders.

“That is why I will say it again today. South Africa has not been, and will not be drawn into a contest between global powers. We will maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict wherever those conflicts occur,” he said. 

“We will continue to resist calls to abandon our independent and non-aligned foreign policy.”