‘We don’t choose a side:’ Dirco denies backing down on Russia-Ukraine conflict

The Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) says its failure to recognize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by South Africa “does not mean it approves of the war”.

South Africa abstained on Wednesday on a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa was one of 35 abstaining member states, including China, India, Iran and Pakistan.

‘Don’t take a side’

Speak with East Coast Radio Dirco, head of diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, said on Thursday the South African government believed the resolution could drive a deeper wedge between Russia and Ukraine. Dirco says it would rather use dialogue to end the war.

“Abstinence doesn’t mean we approve of what’s happening… abstaining doesn’t mean we don’t take sides. We confirmed that, with regard to the text of the resolution that was in the UN General Assembly for vote by members, in our view the resolution did not create a favorable environment for diplomacy, dialogue and mediation.

“It was intended to drive a deeper wedge between the two countries and we have always maintained the premise that international disputes and political challenges are best resolved through dialogue, through negotiation.

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“South Africa as a country is the product of a negotiated settlement…when we negotiate and engage in dialogue, we can prevent and avoid conflict,” he said.

monyela also stated that no South African was killed as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.

Dirco has identified a total of 64 South African nationals in its database — including 34 university students — who lived in Ukraine, according to Monyela.

Speaking of South Africans in Russia, Monyela said: “We have already advised South Africans in Russia who do not need to be there that it may be best to go back home if commercial flights are still available before it reaches a point where it is impossible to get out.

“For now they are safe as we have not seen any attacks in Russia, but it is a matter that we will continue to monitor closely.”

South Africa is a member of Brics – an economic group made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

‘Walk back’

During the National Assembly’s plenary session on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of International Relations Candith Mashego-Dlamini insisted that South Africa was not on the fence regarding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Mashego-Dlamini said South Africa “encouraged all sides through quiet diplomacy” to use international structures such as the UN and Brics to work to de-escalate tensions.

“South Africa encourages all parties to engage in dialogue with a spirit of compromise to move the process forward without blaming any party, which will not help resolve the conflict. South Africa stands by its principled stance of peaceful conflict resolution,” she said.

She said South Africa had good bilateral relations with both Ukraine and Russia, and “it would therefore be unwise to take any other position that could jeopardize bilateral relations”.

Meanwhile, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa Masego-Dlamini asked whether Dirco still stood by the statement it released last Thursday, calling on the Russia department to immediately stop military attacks in Ukraine.

“I think the horses had already secured many things that the deputy minister has indicated, and the tensions have gone beyond escalation as Ukraine has been invaded by Russia. The country is currently at war.

READ MORE: Russian aggression must be condemned, SA Ukraine body says

“Therefore the question [that needs to be asked is that] Dirco still stands by the statement it issued last week because judging by the response now there is an element of restraint, especially in a very direct appeal to Russia,” he said.

The State Secretary replied: “There is no change of position here, Chairman, because as a country we will continue and also call for a peaceful solution of conflicts and that is our position.”

International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor gave a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday, where she retracted her statement that Russia should withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

This is after President Cyril Ramaphosa was “unhappy” about Dirco’s statement, as it contradicted South Africa’s stance on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Last Sunday, presidency minister Mondli Gungubele also claimed that South Africa’s position remained a mediated dialogue.

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