On the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – thirteen hours after the invasion had begun, to be precise – the ANC Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, her department’s special advisor, and the Chief of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), among others, attended a cocktail function at the Russian ambassador’s residence in Pretoria in honour of the Russian Defence Force.
The event, hosted by the Russian ambassador to South Africa, Mr Ilya Rogachev, and the Russian Defence Attaché, Colonel Dmitriy Priimachuck, was boycotted by all NATO member countries. But this did not stop Minister Thandi Modise, her Director General’s special advisor Tsepe Motumi, and the Chief of the SANDF General Rudzani Maphwanya, in full uniform, from clinking glasses and sipping champagne as they celebrated the power of an army that had just invaded its neighbour that very morning.
At a time when the world has chosen to stand united in its condemnation of Russia’s war declaration on a sovereign nation – when the staunchest Putin allies such as the Hungarian Prime Minister and the Czech President have turned against him, and when even China felt it had to abstain from a UN Security Council vote rather than support Russia – our own ANC government could not scramble fast enough to the wrong side of history.
The grotesqueness of this gesture cannot be overstated. Imagine raising a glass to the might of the German army at the German embassy on the day that Hitler invaded Poland.
To make this situation worse, this cocktail event took place only two hours after the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) had issued a statement calling for Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine – a statement which has apparently incensed the ANC and President Ramaphosa. They have since rebuked DIRCO and made attempts to patch their relationship with Russia.
So now we have a DIRCO Minister, Naledi Pandor, who seemed to sing entirely from the Russian hymn sheet in her SONA debate speech, only to have this reversed by her Department in calling for a Russian withdrawal. But this was then immediately contradicted by the attendance of her ANC colleagues at an event glorifying the Russian invasion, and a complete row-back by the Presidency on the DIRCO statement.
So what is it then? Where do the ANC government and President Ramaphosa stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine? How can the one hand not know what the other is doing during a major global crisis? Every other world leader has somehow found it possible to state a clear position. Why have we not heard from President Ramaphosa, in absolute and unambiguous terms, where he stands?
Russia is now a global pariah state thanks to the ruthless warmongering of its despotic leader. It has run out of friends and allies, and rightly so. Except down here in South Africa, where you will still find the last lonely outpost of support for a brutal regime that has no regard for international law or the sanctity of life. The ANC could not embarrass us more on the world stage if it tried.
It is unacceptable that President Ramaphosa allows this confusion to continue, and our country’s image to be dragged through the mud. The DA calls on him to immediately address the nation – and the world, for that matter – stating his and his government’s position on the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin.