/ 21 August 2023

Ramaphosa reiterates non-alignment days before Brics summit

President Cyril Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has reiterated his administration’s non-aligned position on the Russia-Ukraine war and again called for the release of Ukrainian children. 

Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Sunday ahead of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit this week. 

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s arrest in March, alleging that he is responsible for the war crime of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

As South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the country was drawn into an international relations nightmare when Putin’s government refused earlier this year to withdraw from attending the Brics summit, intensifying tensions between Pretoria and Washington.

Following intense diplomatic negotiations, with Ramaphosa sending envoys to Washington to allay fears over South Africa’s close relationship with Russia, the government announced in July that Putin would attend the summit virtually. 

Ramaphosa said that through the African peace initiative, Pretoria continued to be involved in processes to ensure that children who were removed from their homes in Ukraine were returned to their families, and that prisoners of war were exchanged.

He said that South Africa supported the principle of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states and peoples.

During Sunday’s address, Ramaphosa affirmed South Africa’s foreign policy, which included the non-aligned stance to the war.

South Africa’s non-aligned stance and allegations that arms were loaded onto a Russian cargo ship in December in Cape Town led to the US congress suggesting that President Joe Biden should reassess the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) – Washington’s flagship trade programme in Africa. 

The US congressional leaders wanted Biden to move the Agoa summit from being hosted in South Africa. 

Ramaphosa has however regained some leverage within Washington following the African leaders’ peace keeping mission to Ukraine and Russia. 

One of the US’s most influential diplomats, acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland, lauded Ramaphosa’s posture around the Ukraine children, previously telling the Mail & Guardian that it carried “valuable weight” with Washington. During her visit to South Africa in July, she said: “That is very valuable to us — when a country like South Africa can give those strong messages.”

The Mail & Guardian understands that South Africa has requested an early extension to Agoa, which ends in 2025.  

Ramaphosa said on Sunday: “We firmly believe that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy is the only viable path to end the current conflict and achieve a durable peace. We support the principle of respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states and peoples.”

Ramaphosa said that to further strengthen economic ties between African countries and the United States, South Africa was inviting more than 30 African trade ministers and senior US administration and congressional representatives to the next Agoa forum, scheduled for November. 

“As part of our ongoing relationship with the countries of the European Union, we will hold the European Union-South Africa summit later this year in South Africa to foster our investment and trade relations. Recent trade statistics indicate the success of all our international links,” he said, adding that the first quarter of this year saw exports of R450 billion.

“We have resisted pressure to align ourselves with any one of the global powers or with influential blocs of nations. During the ‘Cold War’, the stability and sovereignty of many African countries was undermined because of their alignment with the major powers. This experience has convinced us of the need to seek strategic partnerships with other countries rather than be dominated by any other country.” 

He said that while some of Pretoria’s detractors preferred overt support for their political and ideological choices, “we will not be drawn into a contest between global powers”.

Instead, South Africa strove to work with all countries for global peace and development, he said.

“It is for this reason that South Africa is a member of the non-aligned movement, a forum of 120 countries that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. Our decision not to align with any one of the global powers does not mean that we are neutral on matters of principle and national interest. Our non-aligned position exists alongside our active support for the struggles of the oppressed and marginalised in different parts of the world.” 

He said South Africa would continue with its involvement in talks to reopen the Black Sea to facilitate the flow of grain exports.

At least 20 countries have shown interest in joining the Brics bloc, including Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt. The Mail & Guardian earlier reported that high ranking government insiders indicated that Pretoria would lobby strongly for Egypt to join the group. 

It was earlier announced that Morocco was among the African countries which had signalled an interest to join the bloc, but on Sunday the Moroccan government sent a strongly worded statement, taking issue with South Africa and alleging that Pretoria had multiplied tensions against the nation within the African Union. 

The South African government has had strained relations with the North African nation over its continued occupation of Western Sahara, the only African state yet to achieve independence from colonial occupation.

With South Africa preparing to chair the G20 group in 2025, Ramaphosa also reiterated a position by many heads of states from developing nations that the United Nations Security Council must be transformed into a more inclusive, effective body that is able to ensure peace and security.