Russia-Ukraine conflict: South African political parties clash over government's stance

South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters party MPs in the South African National Assembly in Cape Town in 2017. The South African government is under fire to take sides on the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Photo credit: Mark Wessels | AFP

The South African government is under fire to take sides on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The country’s main political parties have also clashed on whom to support. 

South Africa has neither condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nor supported it in what is viewed as a neutral stance.

But the issue has divided opposition parties in parliament who are now pressing the government to adopt a sterner stance on the issue. Pretoria enjoys cordial bilateral relations with both Russia and the West.

Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Candith Mashego-Dlamini told parliament, “As the government of South Africa, we urge all South Africans not to take sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as this could go against our principles. In addition, we have good bilateral relations with both countries.”

Neo-Nazi propagandists

Soon after Minister Mashego-Dlamini’s speech, the vocal Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema met with Russia’s ambassador to South Africa, Mr Ilya Rogachev on Wednesday.

The firebrand leader pledged his support for Russia while castigating the West.

 “We met with the Ambassador of the Russian Federation in South Africa, Ambassador Ilya Rogachev, in Tshwane today,” Mr Malema said.

“We received first-hand information on the ongoing military operations in Ukraine from the embassy, not from neo-Nazi propagandists.”

The EFF went on to take aim at NATO for the decision to “encircle Russia,” an action they described as a “security threat that must be averted.”

The opposition party accused NATO of committing war crimes and indiscriminately killing innocent civilians in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

While the EFF sides with Russia, South Africa’s biggest opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) differed.

DA leader John Steenhuisen views Pretoria’s seemingly neutral stance as siding with Russia.

He quoted the late Desmond Tutu’s remarks that “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Mr Steenhuisen said the South African government “has picked the wrong side of history, and it has dragged 60 million South Africans along with it.”


“Under a shameful veneer of ‘neutrality’, the ANC government has effectively pledged its tacit support for Putin’s imperial march to restore his lost empire,” Mr Steenhuisen said.

“And I’m not only talking about the shameful abstention in the UN vote. When ANC ministers attend a cocktail function glorifying the Russian military on the day of the invasion, you don’t have to read between the lines.”

South Africa abstained from a recent United Nations General Assembly vote on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

That was just after International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor has publicly condemned Russia’s military action and demanded that Putin “immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.”

Soon after, President Ramaphosa contradicted her, denying her stance, in what forced Minister Pandor to retract her speech in a speech to the UN.

“When a lone call by [Department of International Relations and Cooperation] DIRCO for Russia to withdraw its army is hastily retracted and the minister admonished, you don’t have to read between the lines,” Mr Steenhuisen said.

Global solidarity

“And when our president calls Putin in the middle of his invasion, pledging to strengthen bilateral ties – as the rest of the world isolates him – you don’t have to read between the lines.

“To the astonishment of the world, the same ANC that once relied on global solidarity in its fight against oppression [apartheid] has now openly sided with the oppressor.

“That wasn’t Russia. It was the Soviet Union, and that solidarity included Ukraine, the country now being attacked.”

The castigation of the South African government and the ruling African National Congress did not stop there.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said the government views Russia as a friend but Moscow does not regard them as its friend.

He said Pretoria is supporting a country that sees them as a “useful idiot.”

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said South Africa “must call out Russia on its wrongs.”