By Fiona Wakelin
In his first letter addressing the nation for the month of March, President Ramaphosa focuses on conflict resolution between Ukraine and Russia, with a firm belief in the value of negotiation and dialogue. His Excellency recalls our own history and how the principle of negotiation has been a cornerstone of South African foreign policy since our first democratic elections.
In his letter our President unpacks the reason why South Africa abstained from voting in the United Nations resolution on the escalating conflict between Russia and Ukraine: this was because the resolution did not foreground the call for meaningful engagement – instead, the call for peaceful resolution through political dialogue had been reduced to a single sentence close to the conclusion of the final text.
“There have been some who have said that in abstaining from the vote condemning Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, South Africa has placed itself on the wrong side of history. Yet, South Africa is firmly on the side of peace at a time when another war is something the world does not need, nor can it afford. The results of these hostilities will be felt globally and for many years to come,” – President Ramaphosa
His Excellency emphasises that calling for peaceful negotiation is aligned with the UN founding values:
“The UN Charter enjoins member states to settle their disputes by peaceful means in the first instance, stating explicitly that parties to any dispute should first seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and similar mechanisms. Since the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, South Africa’s position has been to affirm this call.
“A cessation of hostilities may indeed be achieved through force of arms or economic pressure, but it would be unlikely to lead to a sustainable and lasting peace.
“The historical tensions between Russia and Ukraine make it all the more important that whatever agreements are brokered are sustainable in the long run and address the concerns of both parties to the conflict,” – H.E. Ramaphosa
This call for a negotiated settlement does not undermine our country’s commitment to human rights – indeed President Ramaphosa cites those countries whose fundamental freedoms we are committed to, including Palestine, Western Sahara, Afghanistan, Syria and across Africa and the world – and he calls on the entire international community to be united in supporting the talks which will bring the two sides together.
“South Africa is greatly encouraged by the words of the UN Secretary-General António Guterres who said last week he would do everything in his power to contribute to an immediate cessation of hostilities and urgent negotiations for peace.
“We all call upon Russia and the Ukraine to subject this conflict to mediation and do everything in their power to reach an agreement that will lead to the cessation of hostilities.
“The peoples of Russia and Ukraine – two neighbours whose histories, peoples and fortunes are inextricably bound together – deserve a peace that is durable, sustainable and lasting,” President Ramaphosa.