/ 31 August 2022

Government has not compromised South Africa by not choosing sides in Russia/Ukraine war, Modise insists

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Defence Minister Thandi Modise. (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The ANC government is not compromising South African citizens by not choosing sides in the ongoing Russia-Ukrainian war, Defence Minister Thandi Modise told the national assembly on Wednesday.

Modise has come under fire over her attendance of a conference on security in Moscow earlier this month which Ukraine’s South African ambassador Liubov Abravitova described as “bizarre”. The South African government has also taken heat over its neutral stance on the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

“The relationship between South Africa and Ukraine cannot depend on the relationship between South Africa and Russia, and vice versa. We will not compromise our speaking out against war. We speak out even against the strong men of Africa and we still need to co-exist with them on this continent,” Modise said on Wednesday, responding to questions from legislators.

Democratic Alliance member of parliament Kobus Marais put it to the minister that “there is a perception that the ANC government is not siding with the citizens of Ukraine, rather with the ‘invaders’, the Russians”. Marais asked Modise how this would affect South Africa’s military and economic partnerships with major trading partners.

Modise dismissed the notion that the ANC was compromising South Africa as “not true”. 

Responding directly to Marais, she said: “I do not have to answer to you. You are rude, but perhaps you think when you look at me you look at a kitchen maid, because your attitude is always like that. You are condescending, you look down upon the black people in this house, and I’m getting fed up with it.”

Thabo Mmutle, an ANC MP serving on the joint standing committee of defence, asked Modise how South Africa had used the conference in Moscow to engage and advance its call for negotiations or dialogue in resolving the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The minister said her government believed in multilateralism, and that dialogues must be enabled across all nations. She said President Cyril Ramaphosa had been one of the first leaders to call for dialogue.

Pressed about Russia’s motive in invading Ukraine, Modise said “whatever the reason” must be taken “right back to Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), we must take it right back to the inability of the UN to intervene when it should have. That is why we have been calling for a relook at the power relations in the UN.”

“I do know that there was no resistance and negative publicity from the Russians when we stood up for peace,” she said, adding that “it is not in the best interest of this house to find fault, it is in our best interest to force the two parties to a table.”  

She said her visit to Russia was aimed at gaining a deeper understanding “on the most pressing matters of the security situation in the Middle East and north Africa, the phenomena of the colours of revolution and the ways to combat international terrorism”.

Modise said she would similarly accept an invitation to Israel despite the decades-old ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.  

“It is important to continue to engage with other nations. But we must also, never run away from dealing with issues of toxic national interests. No country’s national interest is so important that it can be used to oppress other nations, and that is the point we made on the floor at the conference, without fear or favour,” the defence minister added.

While in Russia, Modise described the meeting as a “peace crusade” and called on delegates to be “on the right side of history”. 

She said the South African government regarded multilateralism as a central pillar to resolving conflict, adding: “We respect and encourage resolutions that rebuild people and nations rather than encourage the ‘might is right’ phenomenon. As a country, we strongly believe that proxy wars must stop.”