President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent a strong message to his Western allies that South Africa would not be “drawn into a contest between global powers”.
Speaking at an Africa Day celebration in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, on Thursday, Ramaphosa said the continent was often dragged into conflicts far beyond its borders.
“That is why I will say it again today. South Africa has not been, and will not be, drawn into a contest between global powers. We will maintain our position on the peaceful resolution of conflict wherever those conflicts occur,” he said. We will continue to resist calls to abandon our independent and non-aligned foreign policy.”
South Africa’s relationship with the US, a key trade ally, has been strained since Pretoria took a non-aligned stance in the Russian war against Ukraine.
This was exacerbated by recent public statements made by US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety that the country had sold arms to Russia.
Defence Minister Thandi Modise has denied this, while Ramaphosa has opted to investigate the allegations by way of an inquiry.
The governing ANC sees the move by Washington as a strategy to put pressure on Pretoria to declare a stance in the Russia-Ukraine war. South Africa is expected to host Russian leader Vladimir Putin in August at the annual summit of Brics countries, which include Brazil, India and China.
Putin’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to form part of a delegation of Brics leaders who will be hosted by South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor in June.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa said some countries, including South Africa, were being “threatened with penalties” for pursuing an “independent foreign policy” and for adopting a position of non-alignment.
“As African countries, we have painful memories of a time when proxy wars were waged on the soils of Africa by foreign superpowers,” he said.
“We have not forgotten the terrible, brutal legacy of first having our continent carved up and colonised by European countries, only to find ourselves once more pawns on a chessboard during the Cold War. We are not going back to that period in history.”
He said Africa’s focus remained on pursuing the ideals of the founding charters of the Organisation of African Unity and the African Union and on giving effect to the aspirations of the AU Agenda 2063.
“Our eyes remain firmly fixed on the horizon as we work to achieve continental economic integration. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a landmark achievement. We are greatly encouraged by progress that is being made towards the operationalisation of the AfCFTA,” he said.
“This includes the commencement of trade on a small scale in parts of East and West Africa; the training of small businesses that is taking place on new trade portals and moves towards the operationalisation of the $10 billion AfCFTA Adjustment Fund.”
Ramaphosa said South Africa reaffirmed its commitment to peacebuilding on the continent and to being part of efforts to resolve conflict in regions such as the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, northern Mozambique and Sudan.
“We use Africa Day to reaffirm the importance of consolidating democracy and consolidating good governance across Africa. The African peer review mechanism will continue to enjoy our full support and co-operation,” he said, referring to a voluntary arrangement among African states to systematically assess and review governance at head of state level.
“This Africa Day, we commit ourselves to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and to pursuing national policies that advance gender equality, reduce poverty, inculcate sustainability into all aspects of our lives and mitigate the impacts of climate change.”