Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected many different countries, directly and indirectly. While Ukraine fell victim to the military strength of a global superpower, Russia felt the effects of sanctions placed on it by the United States and Europe. Several countries across the world felt the economic drawbacks of the conflict, with oil and grain shortages causing inflation. The war has split the world into two.
Amidst all this, South Africa has vowed to continue being friends with Russia, despite the possibility of suffering backlash from anti-Russian global powers. South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor stood by this sentiment on Thursday, March 30th as she spoke at the opening of the 17th South Africa-Russia Joint Inter-Governmental Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation in South Africa. Minister Pandor was in the presence of Russian National Resources and Environment Minister Alexander Kozlov.
“You would see, Minister, that there is a great deal of media interest in our meeting because there are some who don’t wish us to have relations with an old historical friend. We have made it clear that Russia is a friend, and we have had cooperative partnerships for many many years, including partnerships as we combated the apartheid regime which decimated our people and our country. And while we are friends with many all over the world, we cannot become sudden enemies at the demand of others,” says Pandor.
While South Africa maintains its friendship with Russia, the country has insisted it holds a neutral position with regard to the war. This is because South Africa and Russia share a significant history of working together in the former’s fight for its liberation. Some members of the African National Congress (ANC) armed wing uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) received their training in Moscow when it was the Soviet Union. According to some historical accounts, some of the training took place in Odesa, which is present-day Ukraine, and Crimea, which was formerly Ukrainian territory that was taken over by Russia. South African freedom fighters also received weapons from the Soviet Union. This gives reason as to why South Africa has chosen to remain neutral in the matter of the war. South Africa has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution to the war, a stance Minister Pandor reiterated.
“We as South Africa remain hopeful that we can find a diplomatic solution to the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine. We believe such a peaceful resolution will be beneficial to both countries but also to the global communities, as all of us are impacted upon both by the sanctions as well as by the conflict,” Pandor said.
South Africa’s friendship with Russia was recently complicated by the arrest warrant issued against President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in transporting Ukrainian children into Russia illegally. Since South Africa is a party to the Rome Statute and a member of the ICC, if President Putin were to set foot on South African territory, most probably during the upcoming BRICS Summit in August, he would have to be arrested.
However, the aforementioned scenario would unlikely end with the Russian President’s arrest.
The leader of the South African opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, Commander in Chief Julius Malema said Putin is welcome to visit South Africa and will not be arrested. “Putin is welcomed here. No one is going to arrest Putin. If need be, we will go and fetch Putin from the airport to his meetings. He will address, finish all his meetings, and we will take him back to the airport. We are not going to be told by these hypocrites of the International Criminal Court,” Malema said.