WASHINGTON — Political analysts say South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has undercut his own utility as a potential mediator of the war in Ukraine with a controversial suggestion that NATO’s own actions are to blame for Russia’s invasion of its western neighbor.
Ramaphosa has said he prefers negotiations over weapons or economic sanctions, in reference to sanctions piled on Russia by the United States and Western allies in the aftermath of the invasion, now in its fourth week.
“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” Ramaphosa told parliament last Thursday.
But he added that South Africa “cannot condone the use of force and violation of international law.”
The South African president said South Africa had been asked to mediate in the conflict, but he did not mention who requested the intervention.
University of Western Australia analyst Dr. Muhammad Dan Suleiman told VOA that Ramaphosa’s “outrageous” comment is “more like stoking the fire of conflict (and) projecting a paradigm of war rather than peace." He said the comment undercuts any possibility for Ramaphosa to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Africa's most industrialized nation has long-standing relations with the Kremlin dating back to the 1960s. During South Africa’s apartheid regime, the Soviet Union backed anti-apartheid freedom fighters.
After majority control came to South Africa in 1994, politicians, including those of the ruling African National Congress, maintained ties with Moscow, which observers say makes it no surprise that South Africa has not condemned Russia’s invasion.
Suleiman said there is no historical reason that gratitude for Soviet support during the apartheid era should translate to a defense of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
''For whatever reason, (Ramaphosa) seems to be equating Russia to the Soviet Union. And that is not true, because Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. And so, whatever help the Soviet Union gave to the ANC during apartheid also had the contribution of Ukraine,'' Suleiman said.
Prince Mashele, executive director at the Center for Politics and Research in Pretoria, said Ramaphosa’s position doesn’t reflect the current thinking of most South Africans.
''You can't have a foreign policy that is frozen in the past. Foreign policy has to be dynamic. If (Ramaphosa) had a flexible policy, he would appreciate that the Russia of today is not the Russia of yesteryear.''
Mashele told VOA, "Ramaphosa is trapped by his own political party, the ANC, and so, the position he articulates doesn't reflect his own personal preference. In the ANC, there are relics of the old world aligned with the Communist Party of South Africa and (are) still active,” Mashele said.
Mashele disagrees with some analysts’ assertions that Black South Africans in 2022 continue to look to Moscow for support.
''I am Black. I come from Black communities. The majority of Black South Africans are actually inspired by the West. Their culture, mannerisms, are an extension of the West, in terms of thinking.''
He added, ''Black South Africans don't even wish to visit Moscow. They wish to visit New York, or Dubai in the East, or Europe. And so, the position that is articulated by Ramaphosa on behalf of South Africans doesn't reflect the thinking of Black people. It only represents the thinking of a political clique in the ANC.”