I am in Ukraine to see for myself and to speak for my country. Someone must. It is strongly in South Africa’s interest to stand with the free world and come out hard against Russian aggression.
If President Ramaphosa will not do this, and he has made it clear he will not, then it falls to me as the leader of the opposition, and a party which governs for some 20 million South Africans.
Russia’s violent invasion of sovereign Ukraine is the biggest military mobilisation since World War Two. It has caused the biggest displacement of civilians – over 12 million people so far – since World War Two. Possibly, it represents the greatest threat of nuclear warfare since World War Two.
It would be naïve to view this war as a regional threat. Make no mistake, the effects of this war are already reverberating across the globe and as usual, the poor will suffer most.
According to the World Bank, global energy prices are expected to rise by over 40% in 2022, non-energy prices by 20%, wheat prices by over 40%. The longer this war lasts, the more severe and long-lasting will be the impact on global fuel and food prices.
Such is the interconnectedness of the world today that Ukraine’s problems are our problems too. As I write, the price of chips in South African school tuckshops is going up due to the soaring price of cooking oil. The R350 social relief of distress grant is looking more and more like a token gesture and less and less like anything which could actually relieve distress.
In my recent visits to KZN and the Eastern Cape I’ve seen and heard for myself how the flood disaster and rising food prices have taken a profound toll on vulnerable households.
South Africa is heading into a winter of discontent that will see the poor plunged deeper into poverty and millions more pushed below the poverty line. To a very large extent, we have brought this on ourselves, through self-harm decisions, the greatest of which has been to keep the ANC in national government.
Morally, geopolitically, financially, it is inconceivable that South Africa would remain “neutral” on the Ukraine invasion. Yet it is worse than that. Our so-called neutrality is in fact veiled support for Russia. We must ask ourselves why the ANC government would support Russia when it hurts South Africa to do so.
The answer is the same as when we ask why the ANC government would commit R50 million in aid for Cuba and employ hundreds of Cubans at inflated prices and buy unlicensed Cuban Covid drugs when South Africans are jobless, hungry and desperate.
It is the same as when we ask why the ANC government was prepared to bankrupt South Africa in pursuit of a Russian nuclear deal. And why the ANC government was prepared to sell South Africa to the highest bidder. Let’s not for a moment think state capture is a thing of the past.
No, Ramaphosa’s support for Russia is not about an ideological commitment to socialism, nor even about loyalty to historic allies. This is purely and simply about elite enrichment at the expense of the rest. The precise mechanisms have not yet been revealed, but more than likely South Africa’s relationship with Russia and Cuba yields kickbacks to ANC cronies.
Russia’s expansion into Africa has been through “elite capture”, where pliable leaders are ensnared in long-term patronage schemes. Fifteen African nations are currently involved in Russian-financed nuclear power deals, and many more are locked into Russian security contracts.
Also consider that a businessman close to Putin tried to run a disinformation campaign for the ANC in the 2019 election, and that the ANC’s biggest donor last year was a Putin-aligned oligarch.
Ramaphosa does not speak for SA on Ukraine. He speaks for the ANC. By refusing to condemn Russian aggression, President Ramaphosa has once again chosen to put ANC interests ahead of the interests of ordinary South Africans. The golden thread running through his presidency is that of putting party before country.
The DA cannot vote in the United Nations General Assembly. But we do have a voice and a constitutional duty to act in South Africa’s best interest.
Why am I in Ukraine? Because the people of South Africa overwhelmingly stand with the people of Ukraine and are appalled by the violent invasion of Putin’s Russian army. Someone has to speak for South Africa on this, and by being here and seeing for myself, I earn the authority and stage to do so.