Ramaphosa in Russia: South Africa is not a Moscow lackey
Ramaphosa was addressing Putin in Russia, but he possibly had in mind a different audience: the United States and the West.
Ramaphosa meeting with Putin in Russia on Saturday, after meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine on Friday. Photo: GCIS
It is a pity that Major-General Wally Rhoode’s flying circus – which saw a plane full of security personnel and journalists kept on the ground for two days in Warsaw, Poland – generated so much dust it almost obscured what Cyril Ramaphosa and the African peace mission were trying to do in Russia.
Ramaphosa in Russia
Whatever the reality, the row and the huge local and international media coverage it generated, diverted attention away from what Ramaphosa was saying.
And his words were significant.
Firstly, he referred to what was happening in Ukraine as a “war”, a term the Russians abhor, because they refer to their invasion as a “special military operation”.
Then he made it plain that one of the principles of the African nations’ peace plan was adherence to the United Nations (UN) Charter, cardinal to which is respect for nations’ sovereignty and international borders – both of which were violated by the Russians.
Addressing war crimes
It was a marked turnaround from South Africa’s stance last year when it effectively ignored the UN Charter by abstaining from voting on a resolution condemning the Russian invasion.
Not only that, Ramaphosa implicitly rejected the Russian narrative about the Ukrainian children who were taken to Russia, insisting they be returned home.
It remains to be seen whether Ramaphosa’s words came through a change of heart by South Africa or through pressure from the peace mission’s other members.
A wider audience
Though Ramaphosa and the ANC may insist they have not changed their “non-aligned” stance, his emphasis on the primacy of the UN Charter was critically important because it cut to the heart of the issue on Ukraine.
The Russians were, predictably, not impressed and said the African plan would be “difficult” to implement.
However, Ramaphosa possibly had in mind a different audience: The United States and the West.
His message would have been clear: South Africa is not a Moscow lackey.