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South African link to murky Russia war on Ukraine recipe for pariah tag


South African link to murky Russia war on Ukraine recipe for pariah tag

Wednesday May 24 2023

South Africa's President, Cyril Ramaphosa. PHOTO | AFP

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has cut global food supplies, reorganised energy markets, and undermined the United Nations’ highest body and charter.

And now it is recasting the geopolitics of Africa too, with South Africa racing to join the world’s pariah states, Iran and North Korea.

For this accusation of South Africa supplying arms to Russia is no small matter.

The trail, and the publicity of it, loomed over the year like some Hollywood spy movie — a Russian ship that turned its transponder off and headed into a South African navy base, a flurry of trucks passing through the base town, intensive night loading onto the Russian ship, and local residents on social media reporting back street chases by security goons after trying to follow the trucks to find out where they were from.

Yet, across the secret ship calls, the very public shared military exercises with Russia and China, and its aversion to applying the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant on the Russian president, South Africa’s commitment to Russia is turning out to cut very deep indeed.

Commentators point to the prolific funding of its ruling party by a Russian oligarch, to ties with the former Soviet Union borne of its support for ending apartheid, and to the South African friendship with Russia within the BRIC alliance.

But there are other drivers too. At the core, South Africa is and always has been a mining economy, and step by step, China’s investments in its mines have ballooned, alongside investments in its banks, its ports, and much of its economy. These days, China — Russia’s ‘friend without limits’ — owns a lot of South Africa.

Holds such as these seem to be more important than broader alliances, for India and Brazil are also in the BRIC alliance — but not in joint military exercises with Russia and China.

Nor is Russia actually the former Soviet Union. It should never have, so glibly, been given sole and whole control of the USSR’s former seat on the UN Security Council.

It was a large bit part of the USSR, but it was entitled to former Soviet global positions only to the degree that Washington State could claim all US seats if the US disbanded. The positions should have been shared.

In reality, Ukraine was part of the same former Soviet Union that supported South Africa’s own liberation — even as South Africa now supports Ukraine’s enforced recolonisation.

Yet, beyond every bare bone now being exposed by South Africa’s new stance, the biggest change is simply in our understanding of the country.

So long the most advanced economy in Africa, is it now to be Africa’s own Iran or North Korea? The rethink is eye-widening.