The Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who attended the 2nd Russia-Africa Parliamentary Conference, announced on March 20 that Pretoria would continue to support Moscow and that her country is committed to building a multipolar world order.
“We will continue to lean on you, and you can rest assured that, as a country and as a people of South Africa, we will continue to support the people of Russia,” she said.
For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said to African representatives at the conference that Russia, like Africa, “defends traditional moral values” by “resisting the neo-colonial ideology imposed from abroad.” The Russian president also promised to provide “the neediest countries in Africa” with cereals, even if the important agreement on Ukrainian exports is not renewed.
“I want to emphasise that our country has always given and will continue to give priority to cooperation with African states,” Putin continued. “Our country is determined to continue building a full strategic partnership with our African friends, and we are ready to shape the global agenda together.”
The friendly rhetoric comes as Western media begins mounting pressure on South Africa to arrest Putin if he visits the country later this year for the BRICS summit. The International Criminal Court (ICC), a European NGO with a political agenda, recently issued an arrest warrant on Putin for alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Although South Africa is a signatory of the Rome Statute and, therefore, has the responsibility to execute an ICC arrest warrant, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, said he would not “speculate” on whether Putin would be arrested if he visited the country.
It is recalled that in 2015, former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir freely attended an African Union summit in South Africa despite being subject to two ICC arrest warrants. South Africa will host a summit of representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa later this year, and it is unknown for now if Putin will attend.
“We note the reports on the warrant of arrest that the ICC has issued against President Putin. It remains South Africa's commitment, and very strong desire that the conflict in the Ukraine is resolved peacefully through negotiations,” Magwenya said. “We are, as a government, cognisant of our obligation. However, between now and the summit, we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders with respect to the summit and other issues related.”
Magwenya said there had not been any invitations sent to the BRICS heads of state, and for this reason, any talk about Putin visiting South Africa would be “speculating against scenarios that may not necessarily arise.”
At the same time, Pretoria is playing an active role in trying to resolve the crisis in Ukraine by offering to mediate a peace settlement. Ramaphosa, in conversations with both Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and Putin, emphasised the importance of peaceful engagement. He also stressed that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres could play a significant role in such discussions.
South Africa even offered to host Inter-Parliamentary Union-facilitated peace talks between Ukraine and Russia to end the war. Mapisa-Nqakula announced this while tabling a report at the 146th General Assembly of the IPU in Bahrain.
“The IPU task force also undertook a visit to Kyiv in Ukraine and Moscow in Russia, where negotiations took place with the leadership of both parliaments to help end the war that has led to untold devastation, a humanitarian crisis and food shortages that affected many nations of the world,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.
South African attempts to broker a peace deal are unlikely to be successful, but it does demonstrate a country that is becoming increasingly confident and vocal in defending its interests, such as averting food shortages and a humanitarian crisis. At the same time, attempting peace negotiations is also a tacit demonstration of support for Moscow, despite announcing neutrality, as South Africa did not succumb to pressure to sanction Russia and sever relations.
In fact, only last month, South Africa hosted Russia and China for naval exercises off the KwaZulu-Natal coast, amid much international criticism.
It remains to be seen how South Africa will react if Putin arrives at the BRICS summit later this year. Perhaps to avoid controversy though, the summit might only feature the foreign ministers. None-the-less, South Africa is a critical part of the multipolar world order and is taking a more active role in it.