Peace mission scores for SA diplomacy
The continent can only grow in stature because of this.
President Cyril Ramaphosa participating in the African Leaders Peace Mission in Ukraine. Photo: GCIS
It was always going to be a mountain to climb for the African leaders, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine.
No surprise that most analysts, both here and abroad, would have assessed the peace mission as a failure. But that would be to miss the subtle, but fundamental, message sent out to the world by Ramaphosa … and the positive spinoff it might have for South Africa and Africa in general.
The expectation, as Ramaphosa headed to both Kyiv and Saint Petersburg to meet Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian leader Vladimir Putin respectively, was that our president was firmly in the pocket of Moscow.
Many, especially in the West, regard SA’s stated policy of “non-alignment” as nothing but a fig leaf for an ongoing ANC infatuation with Russia dating back to the liberation struggle.
Surprisingly, though, Ramaphosa looked Putin in the eye and declared repeatedly that the “war” should be stopped – knowing that would infuriate the Russian leader, who has declared the Ukraine invasion to be a “special military operation”.
Ramaphosa went further, to insist that the way to peace could only be through sticking to the United Nations Charter, which guarantees the territorial integrity of nations – something Russia violated in invading its neighbour.
That seems to be a change from the official SA diplomatic stance last year when the country came to vote on a UN resolution condemning the Russians for violating the charter.
In that case, South Africa abstained. It was one of 35 countries which did so, against more than 140 which censured Moscow.
Finally, Ramaphosa sided with the Ukrainians in stating that Ukrainian children taken to Russia by the Russians early in the conflict should be returned home, giving the lie to the Russian claim they were stopping the kids from becoming victims of “genocide”.
Tymofiy Mylovanov, a former Ukraine minister of the economy, tweeted his surprise at the African proposals, noting they contained a number of pro-Ukraine suggestions.
While it is true Ramaphosa may have been pitching the agreed-upon African plan, the words he used were his own. And the way he delivered them was a message to the world that South Africa really is non-aligned and can be an honest broker.
That will be good for the country’s image abroad and will, hopefully, stave off the demands from American lawmakers that South Africa be excluded from the beneficial African Growth and Opportunities Act for siding with Russia.
It will also soothe the concerns of Europe about our foreign policy direction. That means we will probably not be punished, in trade terms, for our friendship with the Kremlin. And that, in turn, will help our economy and help to save jobs. So South Africa is a winner here.
Africa, too, also comes across as a trusted negotiator, because of the apparently unbiased approach it is taking, as articulated by Ramaphosa. The continent can only grow in stature because of this.
Many of those at home, including Ramaphosa’s political opponents, will use the supposed failure of the mission to pillory the president. And the circus sideshow which unfurled in Poland will not make it any easier to see the wood for the peace mission trees.
But others might see the hidden benefit and realise the peace mission may have been a turning point in South African diplomacy