/ 17 May 2023

Ramaphosa’s Russia-Ukraine peace initiative to kick off in June

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The six nation African Union peacemaking mission led by President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to meet both Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in June.

The group of African leaders will shuttle between Kyiv and Moscow in a bid to kickstart peace talks between the two leaders — or at least secure a ceasefire in the conflict, now more than a year old.

Zane Dangor, of the department of international relations and cooperation, told parliament on Wednesday that the leaders from South Africa, Egypt, Zambia, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Uganda would meet the two leaders “some time in June”. 

He told parliament’s portfolio committee on international relations that both Putin and Zelenskiy had welcomed the initiative.

The African leaders would be “shuttling between the two capitals to engage in the facilitation of peace talks, or at least get towards a ceasefire”, Dangor said.

The plan had been shared with United Nations secretary general António Guterres, and other actors, including the United States, from whom there was “general support”. 

“It’s early days, but this initiative will continue and is gathering pace,” Dangor said.

Turning to the allegations by the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, that the country had shipped weapons and ammunition to Russia on the cargo vessel Lady R, Dangor said the investigation by a retired judge appointed by the president would continue.

The allegations, over which Brigety has apologised to International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, sent the rand into freefall and placed strain on South Africa’s relations with the US, one of its major trading partners.

Dangor said the investigation “is to ensure that none of South Africa’s own domestic laws have been impugned by any actions”. 

“We do not have any evidence at this stage that it has. No evidence has been presented thus far. Hopefully more clarity will be [obtained] once this investigation is concluded,” Dangor said.

The presence of Putin for the Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa (Brics) summit in August was also discussed by the parliamentary committee, which was briefed by the department on preparations for the meeting.

The foreign ministers of the Brics member states are set to meet in South Africa next month to discuss preparations for the summit.

An arrest warrant for Putin has been issued by the International Criminal Court, of which South Africa is a member, placing the country in a difficult position with both the ICC and Western countries.

Dangor said that an inter-ministerial committee chaired by Deputy President Paul Mashatile, which had confirmed South Africa’s participation in the ICC,  is “going to look at a number of issues” thrown up by the arrest warrant.

Dangor said that unlike the warrant for former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, which was issued through the UN Security Council, the warrant for Putin was not.

This, he said, meant any waiver of Putin’s immunity as a head of state would have to emanate from Russia, as a non-party to the ICC,  for South Africa to be able to enforce the arrest warrant.

Dangor said South Africa’s actions would be guided by its obligations to the ICC and to international customary law.

The country had already domesticated more of the elements of the Rome Statute and was considering following the route taken by the United Kingdom and doing so with article 98, which deals with the waiving of immunity and surrender of a head of state.

Also on Wednesday, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula met Brigety to discuss the allegations that South Africa had provided Russia with arms and what the ambassador had described as “anti-American sentiments expressed by the governing party”.

In a statement the ANC said Brigety had reiterated his apology to Pandor at the meeting, which it described as “cordial.”

The party said Mbalula had reiterated that the ANC’s historic and current stance was guided by progressive internationalism, pan-Africanism, and international and continental   solidarity. The party also remained committed to opposing imperialism.

“The meeting discussed the importance of the relationship between the people of South Africa and the people of the United States of America. Whilst there may be points of   divergence on certain points, we remain committed to diplomatic engagements to resolve challenges on our shared interests,” the ANC said.

The party said there would be a follow-up bilateral meeting with the its national executive committee sub-committee on international relations.

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