Last week was the first time President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the Eastern European country was invaded by Russia on 24 February.
The conversation came after Ukrainian ambassador to SA Liubov Abravitova publicly complained about our government’s failure to engage with Ukraine since the start of the war, SA remains controversially neutral on the conflict; it has abstained from voting in three UN resolutions on the matter, cementing its reputation as a quiet supporter of Russia. Not that we’re getting anything worthwhile for this support. Professor William Gumede, who in 2013 wrote the book South Africa in Brics, pointed out this week that our fellow Brics nation, Brazil, negotiated with Russia to reduce the price of fertiliser in exchange for its support. China did the same for the price of oil, and India for oil and weapons. SA? Dololo.
Our neutral stance is instead damaging our economy and reputation as a whole. Still, the government is doubling down: Presidential security adviser Sydney Mufamadi this week distanced himself from a White House transcript of his call with his US counterpart, Jake Sullivan. The note claimed that Mufamadi said there was a “need for an immediate end to Russia’s aggression”. Mufamadi said he agreed that cooperation was needed to move forward, but affirmed that South Africa remained neutral. As Gumede points out: “By now being silent in the face of Russia’s war on a sovereign country, Ukraine, SA has lost its self-worth, its dignity and ultimately its power.”