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South African Opposition Chief Warns Africa to Brace for Ukraine War Impact

FILE: John Steenhuisen, the leader of South African main political opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), arrives ahead of the State of the Nation address by Cyril Ramaphosa, the President of South Africa, in Cape Town on Feb 13, 2020

CAPE TOWN — While South Africa’s African National Congress-led government has refused to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine — preferring to take a neutral stance and calling for mediation — the Democratic Alliance Party’s John Steenhuisen isn’t mincing his words.

He said seeing the destruction of the towns on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was heartbreaking.

Steenhuisen said besides showing Ukraine’s citizens that there are South Africans who care, he also went there to build networks, which could help him make informed decisions.

“To put it in perspective, one out of every three slices of bread in Africa and the Middle East comes from grain in this region," Steenhuisen said. "Cooking oil, they’re the number one producers of cooking oil and fertilizers, which are essential to growing of crops in our own country. There’s been a 300% increase in fertilizer costs in South Africa, which is going to have a huge impact on domestic food security as well. And that’s obviously also tied in with rising fuel prices as a result of the instability in the region.”

The leader of the Democratic Alliance said Africa is particularly vulnerable because of the high levels of poverty.

“There are 30 million South Africans who live below the poverty line," Steenhuisen said. "And that’s obviously exacerbated by an almost 50% unemployment rate.”

Not everyone was pleased with Steenhuisen’s visit. Critics said he seemed more interested in far-off conflicts than those happening in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

“Well, I would say that those criticisms are frankly a little bit childish," Steenhuisen said. "Firstly, I have been to conflicts in Africa. I spent some time in Somaliland. I’ve been to Mozambique.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova, welcomed Steenhuisen’s visit.

“I think it is important from Ukrainian point of view to receive a message that some South African people are supporting Ukraine," Abravitova said. "It will also give some impetus to other political parties not only in South Africa but in Africa in general to have dialogue with Ukraine.”

When asked whether she would like to see South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, visit, she said, “Of course, yes.” She added that, during a recent telephone conversation with her president, President Ramaphosa said he would visit.

“And I believe this visit will happen as soon as the security situation allows,” Abravitova said.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations said it was not commenting on Steenhuisen’s visit to Ukraine at this time.

Questions sent to the spokesperson for the ruling African National Congress, Pule Mabe, about Steenhuisen’s allegations that the ANC-led government is not neutral but siding with Russia, were not answered. Neither were several phone calls to Mabe.