South Africa is spiralling towards aligning itself with Russia and China despite the sentiments of its population, an expert has warned. Charles Ray, a former US ambassador and army officer who now speaks for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Express.co.uk that the African National Congress, the incumbent power in South Africa, was increasingly undermining its purported neutrality over the war in Ukraine in favour of support for Russia.
Owing to a history of relations with the Soviet Union and a favourable relationship with China, as well as a complicated friendship with the US-led West, Mr Ray intimated South Africa, alongside many other countries on the continent, could soon find themselves ostracised as a “pariah” by those backing Ukraine.
Earlier this month, the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, said at a press conference the southern nation had loaded weapons and ammunition onto a Russian vessel, which is under sanctions, at the Simon’s Town naval base near Cape Town in December last year.
He then claimed that the arms were subsequently transported to Russia, which led to the South African foreign ministry issuing a complaint against the ambassador.
While an investigation is underway into this accusation, the leader of South Africa’s third largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, said that if got into power, he would “align with Russia” over the war in Ukraine.
Speaking from Johannesburg, Julius Malema told BBC’s HARDtalk: “I will go beyond the friendship with Russia. In the war, I will align with Russia and I will even supply the weapons.”
The African National Congress (ANC), under President Cyril Ramaphosa, has claimed it maintains a neutral stance over the war and that it supports only peace.
Earlier this month, it joined five other African nations, including Senegal, Egypt, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Zambia, in proposing a peace deal that, they claimed, both Moscow and Kyiv had agreed to attend, though not at the same time.
But Charles Ray suggested such a peace deal was unlikely to achieve anything of value with regards to the conflict, though success could be found in their discussions about ensuring grain shipments make it over the Black Sea, via Turkey, to the African continent.
He claimed that the ANC’s purported neutrality, irrespective of the findings of the investigation into whether South Africa supplied arms to Russia, is quickly morphing into explicit support of Vladimir Putin.
He said that many of the South African military commanders were trained in the Soviet Union, meaning there remains a kinship between them.
Additionally, while Russian forces have a history of supporting the independence movements across Africa, for better or for worse, the West is still facing the fallout from colonial rule and its swift and damaging withdrawal.
These problems are compounded by recent Chinese investment across the African continent in critical infrastructure, which has empowered many of the nations’ governments.
China’s affiliation with Russia is, Mr Ray suggested, then implicitly encouraging African nations to either abstain from opposing Putin’s war in Ukraine or even supporting the autocrat’s full-scale invasion.
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While South Africa can maintain the appearance of being neutral for the time being, when Putin makes his planned visit to the nation towards the end of August this year for the BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), such a political ploy may have to come to an end.
As a member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa is obliged to adhere to the arrest warrant issued for Putin earlier this year, but its officials have refused to confirm they will take affirmative action.
Mr Ray suggested that the country has “worked themselves into a situation where, to go forwards, they fall off a cliff, but to go backwards, they run into a wall”, referencing relations with Russia against the cajoling calls from the West to join in condemnation of Putin’s invasion.
Ultimately, he said, they would rather choose to support Russia, as well as China, both of which have made material investments into the continent, over the West.
The global south may have maintained its neutral stance over the war in Ukraine for the past 15 months – a move that at the very least has not helped Russia – but the African continent, led by South Africa, may be about to change that.
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