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Why Cozying Up to Russia Gets South Africa Nowhere


South Africa's decision to abstain from a UN General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, and its failure to mention Russia's responsibility for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine in its draft UN resolution, has been met with widespread criticism.

While the South African government has argued that it is taking a neutral stance in the conflict, many have accused it of trying to curry favor with Russia at the expense of the Ukrainian people.

There are a number of reasons why South Africa's position on Ukraine is concerning. First, it undermines the international order and the rule of law. Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of international law, and South Africa's failure to condemn it sends a message that such violations are tolerated.

Second, South Africa's position emboldens Russia and other authoritarian regimes. It shows them that they can get away with flouting international law without facing consequences.

Third, South Africa's position weakens the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Millions of people have been displaced by the conflict, and thousands have been killed. South Africa's refusal to hold Russia accountable for its actions makes it more difficult to provide humanitarian aid to those in need.

It is important to note that South Africa is not alone in its reluctance to condemn Russia. A number of other countries, particularly in Africa, have also abstained from votes on resolutions condemning Russia or have taken a neutral stance on the conflict.

There are a number of reasons for this. For some countries, it is a matter of self-interest. They are concerned about the economic consequences of condemning Russia, or they rely on Russia for military or economic support. For others, it is a matter of ideology. They share Russia's anti-Western views and are reluctant to criticize a fellow authoritarian regime.

Whatever the reasons, the failure of a number of countries to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine is a major setback for the international order. It shows that even in the face of a clear violation of international law, there are still countries that are willing to put their own interests above the rule of law.

South Africa's position on Ukraine is particularly disappointing given its history of fighting for justice and human rights. The African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled South Africa since 1994, received significant support from the Soviet Union during its struggle against apartheid. However, the ANC should not forget that the Soviet Union was itself a repressive regime that committed numerous human rights abuses.

South Africa has a unique opportunity to play a leading role in promoting human rights and democracy in Africa. However, it cannot do so if it is unwilling to stand up to authoritarian regimes like Russia.

Here are some specific recommendations for South Africa:

  • South Africa should condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

  • South Africa should support the International Criminal Court's investigation into possible war crimes and other violations in Ukraine.

  • South Africa should work with other countries to impose sanctions on Russia and to provide humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people.

South Africa should also work to bridge the differences between African and Western governments on Ukraine. It is important for the international community to speak with one voice in condemning Russia's actions and in holding it accountable for its crimes.

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