top of page

South Africa's History and her Stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine

The Conversation | At a vote in the United Nations General Assembly, South Africa abstained on a resolution denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine and demanding its departure.

According to the South African administration, it has strong relations with both Russia and Ukraine, which is why it abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly to condemn the Russian invasion.

South Africa abstained because the resolution did not prioritize the demand for real dialogue, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, wasted little time in teasing the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that its absence was due to a R7.5 million donation from a Russian oligarch, Victor Vekselberg.

However, simply because he is Russian, one cannot infer that a billionaire's personal opinions are pro-Putin. Furthermore, no "oligarch" will ever express opposition ideas in public again since the Kremlin imprisoned and sequestered billionaire Mikhael Khodorkovsky in 2005.

In actuality, the term "oligarch" is deceptive because it connotes a powerful figure in the inner circle. The truth is that Russia's billionaires are totally dependent on the Kremlin for their fortune. The Kremlin, like Henry VII of England, seizes the property of its critics.

Furthermore, there are numerous dimensions to reality. And in this situation, the past is important. To summarize, the ANC recalls who were its allies and who labeled it "terrorists" during the Cold War. The other issues have been drowned out by this. This includes the fact that, as a small country, South Africa relies on the United Nations charter values against war and invasion to seize territory, as well as multilateralism to safeguard it from a great power attack.

Those who are linked by history

The ANC has a lengthy relationship with the former Soviet Union. In 1927, one of the founding members of the ANC, Josiah Tshangana Gumede, paid his first visit to the Soviet Union. His visit was a result of his participation in the League Against Imperialism in Belgium.

The ANC got backing from the Soviet Union for its exiled mission in the campaign to liberate South Africa from minority white rule after the apartheid regime was banned in 1960. This help far outstripped that of the Pan-African Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) and others.

Only after the end of the 1970s did Scandinavian donations surpass Soviet contributions. Scandinavian aid, on the other hand, was restricted to peaceful purposes. The only country that gave guns and other military aid to the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was the Soviet Union.

By 1988, Moscow had reinforced guerilla warfare instruction with conventional warfare training, including naval and air force training, recognizing that triumph against apartheid was on the horizon.

These historical ties were obvious in the African states' split during the UN General Assembly vote condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Swapo, the government of Namibia, the MPLA, and Frelimo, the government of Angola, joined South Africa in abstaining.

During the Cold War in the twentieth century, Swapo, the MPLA, and Frelimo all received Soviet foreign funding as liberation forces fighting guerrilla conflicts.

Botswana and Zambia, on the other hand, voted to oppose the Russian incursion. Significantly, their leading parties did not have Russian affiliations and came to power peacefully. This was also the opinion of 28 African Union members who voted in favor of the UN resolution denouncing the Russian invasion and demanding its departure. Seventeen people voted no.

Clearly, Angola's, South Africa's, Namibia's, and Mozambique's liberation groups regard Russia as the inheritor and guardian of the Soviet Union's history and traditions.

History's irony

As is so often the case in history, there is some irony in this. While Russian President Vladimir Putin began his career as a member of the Soviet KGB, the political police, he now qualifies for the Western adage that no one is more anti-communist than an ex-communist. Putin's government, which is backed by his United Russia party, held no Bolshevik revolution centennial commemoration in 2017.

On the contrary, today's Kremlin assures that the Russian Federation's Communist Party faces two decades of rigged elections, denying its victory in Vladivostok and other cities.

Why, then, do the African National Congress (ANC), Swapo, MPLA, and Frelimo, as well as the South African Communist Party (SACP), the ANC's ruling alliance partner, continue to show such devotion to Putin's anti-communist regime?

One reason could be that Russia and those southern African states share a common distrust of NATO's worldwide domination, particularly that of the United States and former colonial powers – the United Kingdom and France. This is despite the Kremlin's dramatic shift in party politics.

The relationship between South Africa and the United States, in particular, has a long and complicated history. Not least because ANC leaders battling the apartheid state have been labeled as terrorists by US governments. There's also the legacy of the CIA's nefarious activities in Africa.

The majority of anti-Ukrainian opinion on the South African internet and in letters to the editors reflects commentators' opposition to prior US foreign policy, including wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They don't reflect what's going on in the real world.

For the governments of South Africa, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique, the Cold War's past alliances and adversaries appear destined to tip the scales in their votes at the United Nations, the African Union, and other forums. This is despite the fact that, as small countries with limited defense capabilities, they rely on support for multilateralism and the UN system to protect them against foreign invasions.

6 views0 comments
bottom of page