/ 5 September 2023

Ramaphosa: SA not ‘holier than thou’ on Brics partners’ rights records

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Late last week, the Social Policy Initiative released a statement revealing that it had called on Ramaphosa to urgently host an inclusive debate on South Africa’s macroeconomic priorities in the wake of recent media coverage. (Emmanuel DUNAND / POOL / AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday South Africa did not take a condescending attitude towards the human rights records of its foreign partners, when questioned in parliament about the invitation to Iran and Saudi Arabia to join Brics.

“We make it very clear that our foreign policy is based on a number of principles, one of those being human rights and in associating with various countries we do not have a holier than thou type of approach” Ramaphosa told the National Assembly.

“We actually communicate very clearly what our policies are,” he added.

“Through exchanging views, through outlining what our own positions are and our principles and values, we hope and trust and work for also a deep understanding of our views and also hope and work for them to see what it means to adhere to universal values such as those enshrined in the UN declaration of rights.”

He said entertaining close relations with countries allowed South Africa to do so.

“This, one is able to do when you exchange views with them. This, one is able to do when they actually see the extent of what your principles and values are, and as we have discussions with them, we find that they get to appreciate the real import and importance of our own values, be they democratic values, be they human rights, be they even economic values.

“Are we able to have influence? I do believe we are.”

He added that his government also readily impressed its ideological views and values on European countries and the US.

“They learn a lot from us, and we will not stop from showcasing what our values are and what human rights that we have in this country are all about.”

It was not South Africa’s foreign policy approach, he added, to “shy away” from any other nations.

“We are friends with all countries in the world; we are enemies of none.”

Ramaphosa was responding to a supplementary question from DA leader John Steenhuisen, who asked whether he was indifferent to the fact that women were treated as second-class citizens in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The two nations were last month invited to join Brics, along with Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The new entrants to Brics, Iran and Saudi Arabia have a sickening disregard for women’s rights, for gender equality, denying women and girls the basic freedoms and legal rights, and excluding them virtually entirely from public life,” Steenhuisen said.

Steenhuisen then accused Ramaphosa of confusing the country’s interest with those of the ruling party in relation to Brics.

“You are standing with autocrats and dictators while sacrificing the principles that triumph in our own constitution. Let us be clear, this is not about human rights or what Brics can do for South Africa, this is about what Brics, and specifically Russia, can do for the ANC.”

In response to an earlier question, Ramaphosa said South Africa expected to reap economic benefit from the current as well future expansion of the Brics club of nations.

“We obviously will look at the economic value in terms of participation for all of us as Brics members. So for us, these additional countries will be boosting our economic recovery and reconstruction plan and we expect a great benefit from all of this,” he replied.

The government has encountered criticism at home and abroad for its warm relations with Russia and its position on its invasion of Ukraine. 

It was raised in a letter sent to the Biden administration by US senators who proposed that the annual forum of African Growth and Development Act scheduled to be held in South Africa be moved to another host country.

Ramaphosa reiterated a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine at the Brics summit in Johannesburg in August where the invitation to new members was extended.