South Africa’s little diplomatic clout washes off

South Africa’s little diplomatic clout washes off The rejection this week by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly of South Africa’s draft resolution on the war in Ukraine demonstrates how this country sometimes seeks to punch above its weight on the world stage.

Not only did the proposed resolution on the conflict bring South Africa’s charade of neutrality into doubt, it also exposed deep political immaturity, which has reinforced perceptions that South Africa is tacitly in support of Russia.

The UN General Assembly’s second emergency session on the Ukraine conflict since Russia began its assault on February 24, saw our country on Wednesday present what was seen as a rival draft resolution to the one advanced by Ukraine.

Ukraine’s resolution – which was adopted by the assembly – criticised Russia’s invasion for triggering the dire humanitarian situation and demanded a stop to the ongoing fighting as well as the withdrawal of Russian troops.

South Africa’s resolution was fair enough in lamenting “the humanitarian situation emanating out of the conflict in Ukraine” but its text fell flat on scrutiny and analysis as it did not make any reference to Russia or its role in the conflict.

It would indeed have been absurd to pass a resolution that would have created the impression that the conflict came out of nowhere. And it would be very unfortunate if South Africa’s resolution was surreptitiously sponsored by Russia as most people have begun to suspect.

We would have preferred South Africa to keep quiet rather than be seen to be trying to appease its political friends in the face of the untold ruin and humanitarian catastrophe that has been occasioned by Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.

Consequently, our credibility and neutrality is in serious doubt (if not in tatters) in the eyes of the international community, especially after President Cyril Ramaphosa recently set tongues wagging with his statement that South Africa had been asked to mediate in the conflict.

If he must be believed and we have no reason not to, Ramaphosa said he has expressed his wish to see the conflict settled through negotiations when he spoke to Russian President Valdimir Putin.

He did not disclose whether it is Putin who approached South Africa to mediate. We do, however, hope that Ramaphosa used the opportunity to convey to him the deep trauma and terrible wounds this war is causing on the people of Ukraine.

The situation is a humanitarian disaster. Men, women and their children who have not been able to escape are beginning to starve as their cities are destroyed by constant bombardment by Russian forces. Ukraine’s neighbouring countries are lamenting how the war is stretching their relief efforts to the limit.

The ghastly consequences of this war are being felt everywhere around the world. South Africa cannot afford to be seen to be taking sides. Instead, we must use the opportunity to foster the spirit of unity and neighbourliness among nations; and where negotiations must take preference over wars.

We need to be seen to be constructive as a country in the eyes of the nations of the world rather than be perceived as a little irritant, which is trying to punch above its weight.

 

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