Russia and the West want South Africa to pick a side

by Deon Osborne, Associate Editor
Russia and the West want Africa to pick a side south africa apartheid
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As the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv warns that Russia will launch imminent “strikes against civilian infrastructure” in Ukraine, the sharp divide among South Africa and other African nations looms large.

Following a car bombing in Russia’s capitol city of Moscow over the weekend, which killed the daughter of high-profile right-wing writer Alexander Dugin, tensions have flared between Russia and Ukraine as the most intense battle in Europe since World War II enters its sixth month.

On Tuesday, the U.S. warned Americans still trapped in Ukraine to leave or seek shelter, Newsweek reports.

“The Department of State has information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days. Russian strikes in Ukraine pose a continued threat to civilians and civilian infrastructure,” the embassy said.

Given that Ukraine celebrates its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union on Wednesday, Aug. 24, Ukrainian intelligence has also warned of an impending “massive” attack.

In this handout photo taken from video released by Investigative Committee of Russia on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022, investigators work on the site of explosion of a car driven by Daria Dugina outside Moscow. Daria Dugina, the daughter of Alexander Dugin, the Russian nationalist ideologist often called “Putin’s brain”, was killed when her car exploded on the outskirts of Moscow, officials said Sunday. The Investigate Committee branch for the Moscow region said the Saturday night blast was caused by a bomb planted in the SUV driven by Daria Dugina. (Investigative Committee of Russia via AP)

African nations divided

Meanwhile, African nations remain evenly divided over whether to condemn Russia’s war on its smaller neighbor.

During a March 2 emergency meeting of the United Nations, in which member countries voted on a Resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more than 80% of non-African nations voted for the measure, according to a Brookings report.

Yet, just over 51% of African nations supported the resolution. Twenty-eight of the 54 African countries voted for the measure, while 17 abstained, including Angola, Algeria, and South Africa. Eight African nations didn’t submit a vote, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Morocco. 

Meanwhile, Eritrea was the only African nation that voted against the resolution, joining outcasts like Belarus, Russia, North Korea, and Syria.

Both sides seek influence in the South Africa, other African nations

In recent months, both the United States and Russia have traveled to African countries to meet with leaders and express their support for continued partnerships, underscoring the continent’s precarious position in the middle of a geopolitical conflict.

In July, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Egypt, the Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia. Aside from Egypt, each of these nations either abstained from voting on the resolution to condemn Russia, or they didn’t vote at all.

Lavrov praised the African nations for resisting what he called “undisguised attempts of the US and their European satellites” to create a one-sided world order, according to a report from German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) in a headline titled, “Russia’s reengagement with Africa pays off.”

South African foreign minister highlights double standard

Days later on Aug. 9, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the president of South Africa, another nation that abstained from voting on the resolution to condemn Russia. The visit was part of a three-nation tour, which included trips to Congo and Rwanda.

“Our strategy is rooted in the recognition that sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force — one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future,” Blinken said while meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. In a clear attempt to push back against Russian influence, Blinken described Africa as an “equal partner” with the U.S.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor pushed back against the U.S. attempt to get African nations to condemn Russia.

“We should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine, as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine,” Pandor said during the visit.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor as he arrives for a meeting at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation in Pretoria, South Africa, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. Blinken is on a ten day trip to Cambodia, Philippines, South Africa, Congo, and Rwanda. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Russian economic support and U.S. military support across the continent, along with the racism African students faced trying to leave Ukraine all contribute to the divide among African nations who have and haven’t condemned Russia’s invasion.

Memories of the world’s response to Apartheid loom large in South Africa

In an article by Human Rights Watch blasting South Africa’s decision not to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the organization noted that it was the Soviet Union that aided freedom fighters in their quest to end apartheid, a legalized form of fierce racial segregation that existed from the 1940s to the 1990s. 

For decades during the brutal white minority rule of the country, the Soviet Union was the largest financial backer for the African National Congress, an opposition party with an armed wing that sought an end to apartheid. It wasn’t until 1986 that the United States signed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, according the U.S. State Department.

For years prior to that, U.S. presidents such as Harry Truman refused to anger the apartheid regime as the West wanted to maintain relations with an African nation that was opposed to Soviet communism.

Eventually, Nelson Mandela, a former ANC political prisoner, rose to the presidency in 1991, paving the way for democracy in South Africa.

Nelson Mandela

Even as the U.S. seeks to alienate Russia from the continent in general and South Africa in particular, memories of the West’s slow response to apartheid in the past and the lack of response to Palestinian apartheid today seems to weigh heavy on the nation.

While Russia, the U.S. and even China clearly have their own goals for providing partnerships and support to African nations, the stiff neutral stances among many of them don’t appear to change anytime soon.

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