South Africa's Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

South Africa's Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

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SA in Support of Ukraine started this petition to President Cyril Ramaphosa (President of the Republic of South Africa) and

An open letter and petition regarding South Africa’s response to the 2022 invasion of Ukraine


His Excellency, President of the Republic of South Africa, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa

Her Excellency, Ambassador Mathu Joyini, Permanent Representative to the United Nations


Dear Mr President, Madam Ambassador, and all other parties concerned,

I write to tell you of the dismay I feel at the choice of the South African government to support Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, in the unprovoked war of choice currently underway in Ukraine.

I was very proud to read the words of Ms Naledi Pandor condemning the invasion of an independent, democratic state by its neighbour. I felt much shame to read some days later that this condemnation of Russia had been walked back by our head of state, and especially at the fact that the statement by President Ramaphosa replaced this condemnation not with neutrality, but with support for Russia. My shame only intensified when the vote taken at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly showed that South Africa had chosen to abstain from the vote to reprimand the invasion.

The world was surprised this week by the news that Switzerland, a country that has remained neutral throughout multiple conflicts across the world, took a stance on the current happenings in Eastern Europe. The Swiss ambassador to the United Nations stated in his speech something that I believe resonated with many around the world, and indeed in our country: “To play into the hands of an aggressor is not neutral.” This mirrors a quote regularly but incorrectly attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

These quotes are pointedly relevant not only to the current situation in Ukraine, but to South Africa’s own history. For decades, the world, and even many of the more privileged people of South Africa, turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the gross injustice of apartheid perpetuated by the government at the time. This enabled the inequality, the discrimination, and the injustice – the effects of which still linger, nearly three decades on – to continue unchecked.

Democracy in South Africa is still in its youth. We cherish and guard our democracy, knowing that it is precious and hard-won. Whether this knowledge has been gained by the study of history – as is the case for me, my peers, and those younger than I am; the born frees; or via painful personal experience, as is still the case for the older generation – it is undeniable. How, then, can we not push back against the democracy of another nation being compromised?

Ukraine, along with many other former Soviet states, fought hard for their independence and their democracy as well. Their democracy is not perfect; nor is ours. Their oppression, perpetuated by another country, rather than internally as ours was, was no less unwanted; no less painful; than ours. They value their way of life – or at least, their way of life until very recently – no less than those South Africans who spent much of their lives bound by the chains of apartheid, and have only in the last thirty years known what it is to be free. For South Africa to not stand up and shout to all the world that Ukraine deserves the same freedom and the same choice that we now enjoy, is nothing short of reprehensible.

I ask you to imagine what the response would be if another country, one much bigger and wealthier and more powerful than South Africa, stepped in and decided that South Africa would henceforth be under their control. The reasoning does not matter – whether it is because of the corruption in government that is still not entirely routed out, because of the fact that we are not entirely self-sufficient in terms of resources, because inequality still persists almost thirty years on from our establishment as a democracy – any reason, surely, would meet with the same response. I ask you, would we as South Africans not push back on that oppression with all the strength we possessed? Would we not vehemently defend our right to exist; our right to self-determination; our right to govern ourselves?

Or, to flip the tables – would we as a country ever feel the right to assume control of another country that did not want us there? Can you imagine standing before our leaders and our people, declaring that we would be unilaterally taking over control of Lesotho or Eswatini or Zimbabwe? It matters not that Lesotho is encircled, and Eswatini nearly so, by South Africa. It is of no consequence whether they depend on resources from South Africa, or whether we depend on theirs. Despite any argument one could make, both of these countries remain independent, self-determining, and full of a rich culture and heritage. If one cannot imagine annexing another country in that manner, or if one would fight back from the depths of one’s heart should another country attempt to take over South Africa, then there is no defensible reasoning one could use to justify Russia attempting to do so to Ukraine.

Even the defence of historical boundaries does not stand up to scrutiny. South Africa would strongly oppose returning to the ways of 1913, when the Natives Land Act was passed, the co-founder of the ANCYL was only just born, and South Africa was not yet fully sovereign from the United Kingdom. I don’t believe that anybody would propose that the Persian and Ottoman Empires be re-established today in place of the various countries that now comprise that part of the world. Nor would the world stand for returning to a time before any sovereign nation allowed women to vote. Russia itself would not countenance a return of the reign of the Imperial House of Romanov. If a return to any of these snapshots of history would be staunchly opposed by anyone who would be affected thereby, what makes President Putin’s desires to re-establish control of the territory Russia possessed in 1913 any more valid?

Mr President, Madam Ambassador, I ask you to extend to Ukraine and her people the same benefits that have been extended to us. I ask you to condemn the Russian invasion of an independent, self-determining, democratic nation. I ask you to stand up for democracy and freedom. I ask you to stand up for the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution, and that are being violated in Ukraine on an hourly basis right now: the right to life, the right to freedom and the right to not be arbitrarily or unjustly detained, the right to security – to not be tortured, to be free of violence, to not be treated in an inhuman way – the right to make political choices, the right to freedom of movement and residence, the right to an environment that is not harmful to health and wellbeing, the right to enjoy one’s own culture and use one’s own language … I could go on all the way through our Bill of Rights, and show how each of these rights is currently being violated in Ukraine. (Indeed, the right to peacefully protest, demonstrate, and petition is being egregiously violated in Russia as well.) While it is true that these rights may not be enshrined for other countries, they are the values that form the backbone of all that we are as South Africa, and to deny any other countries these same rights is unconscionable.

To stand by, purporting not to take a side but benefiting only the aggressor, while these rights are wilfully and forcefully rescinded from other human beings, goes against all that South Africa stands for. To say nothing while every right we enjoy is stripped from an entire nation is reprehensible. To say nothing while human rights violations and war crimes are committed hour by hour and minute by minute is inauthentic, hypocritical, and shameful. Ukraine may be far away, but should this aggression not be halted, the resulting conflict would have devastating effects in all four quadrants of the globe. Russia may be a major trading partner of our country, but our economy will not escape the effects of sanctions. The USSR may have supported the ANC during the years of apartheid, but to stand with a country that violates every principle upon which our new South Africa was built is by far the greater betrayal.

I implore you, Mr President, Madam Ambassador, to take the path of condemning what is clearly wrong, and standing for all that is good and right and fair. I ask that decisions would be made that reflect the founding values of our country, both in determining the actions our own country must take in this conflict, and in informing the position we defend on the larger global stage, where we are privileged indeed to form part of the United Nations. I ask you to consider what being united in this way truly means. I ask you to deeply examine the decisions of all the world’s representatives in this matter, and to decide to align with those who hold dear the same values that define our Rainbow Nation. May we not be those good men who stand by and allow evil to triumph. May we not play into the hands of an aggressor in the name of neutrality.

I close with the words of our first democratic leader; the father of our nation; Nelson Mandela: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others … Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.”

Slava Ukraini!

Yours in freedom, democracy, and peace


{Any citizen, permanent resident, or current resident of South Africa may sign their name to this petition should they agree. Please designate by use of the following after your name whether you are a minor [M], a resident [R], a citizen currently living in the country [C], or an expatriate citizen [E].}

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