Counting the cost of South Africa’s dalliance with Putin


The Sunday Times article of 9 April 2023, titled “Ramaphosa to send envoys to US to explain South Africa’s stance on Russia“, opens with the paragraph “President Cyril Ramaphosa is sending a delegation to Washington to smooth the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s planned visit to South Africa in August, hoping to avoid a diplomatic fallout that could put trade ties worth R400bn at risk.” Thank goodness. That is a lot of money. Our trade with Russia for 2022 was R13.5bn, down R1.8bn from 2021.

The meeting in DC won’t achieve anything if Putin actually arrives in South Africa, especially since the BRICS meeting is happening right before the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) summit. If most of the Americans don’t pitch for the AGOA meeting, a not unreasonable prospect, then things will spiral very quickly. Our openly dogmatic approach to the Russian issue is making it increasingly difficult to step back from the precipice without losing face, yet that is what must happen and quickly too. The risk is underestimated because government believes our trade with the West will not be affected. Even if they are right, this is still not a gamble worth taking. We are trying unsuccessfully to message that we won’t be told what to do by any other country, a position which would be more credible if we hadn’t for example refused the Dalai Lama, a man who is yet to invade another country, a visa. Three times. Once to attend Archbishop Tutu’s birthday party. The Arch said he could not “believe that the South African government could shoot itself in the same foot thrice over”.

We are angry because the Americans and Europeans are less than keen on us inviting and then hosting Putin, but why on earth did we invite him? No one forced us and I doubt even Putin would have cared if we had not extended the invite. No matter how we choose to see BRICS, it is not an alternative to our trade with the West. Our BRICS trade is really trade with China (15.5% of our total trade), India (5.6%). Brazil at 0.9% and Russia at 0.3% are hardly worth mentioning. And we don’t need BRICS for this trade to happen. There is no trade agreement between BRICS states and its unlikely there will be. Attempts at trade agreements with China and India both stalled long before BRICS was even formed. Our preferential trade agreement with Mercosur, which includes Brazil, appears to have been deliberately designed to only include products which neither Mercosur nor SACU actually trade in.

Ukraine’s stolen children

Let’s assume for a moment there was no pressure from the West. We would lose our excuse and would simply be supporting a warmonger who invaded Ukraine (twice) and Georgia once (so far). The International Criminal Court (ICC) has accused Putin of the “unlawful deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation“. This, it turns out, is a war crime. It’s estimated that 20,000 kids were taken to Russia from Ukraine. Russia only admits to 2,000, which they say were more borrowed than taken. The good news is that some of them are being found, but most seem to be gone, quite possibly to never even know they are Ukrainian. You can read about the Ukrainian kids here.

This is chillingly similar to the lost children of Spain’s facist dictator General Franco. Franco, working with the Roman Catholic church, kidnapped kids from undesirable parents (anyone opposed to Franco, unmarried women, or anyone carrying the “red gene” – communism). This continued from the 1930’s to the late 70’s. Mothers would be told their children had died in childbirth, only to have them sold to “good” Catholic families. Franco banned contraception and abortion, so there was no shortage of children to be traded through this infernal market.  Tens of thousands of children were removed from their parents and sold to buyers who saw the world through Franco tinted glasses. Read more about the Franco horror show here.

It’s very hard to think of anyone responsible for the mass abduction of children who turned out to be alright afterwards and Putin is unlikely to be that one exception to the rule.

The Nazi’s took around 250,000 mostly Polish children who looked too Aryan to be Poles, and gave them to SS parents to be “Germanised”.

The Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet facilitated the abduction of children as a way to reduce poverty in Chile, by removing children from poor families and sending them out of the country. Between 1973 and 1990, thousands of Chilean children ended up in the Netherlands, USA, Sweden and Germany.

Next door, the Argentinian junta, waging its US funded “dirty war”, abducted between 220 and 500 babies, many from pregnant mothers who were held in secret detention centres until they gave birth. It’s presumed that the mothers were killed after they gave birth. You can read more about this here.

Uganda’s Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army ordered the abduction of over 60,000 children to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Kony has 42 children of his own.

My take-away from all of this is:

    1. Don’t abduct children, especially lots of them. If the Nazis did it, you can usually assume its a bad thing.
    2. Don’t invite kidnappers to visit South Africa, if only because their stink rubs off on us.
    3. Don’t be suprised if people in other countries judge South Africa harshly for its stance Putin. Pragmatically, harsh judgement will equal negative economic consequences.

What next?

South Africa can still walk this back until the moment Putin arrives. We must. There is no upside to South Africa’s stance on Russia or Putin, but there is a lot of downside.

If we invite Putin to South Africa and don’t arrest him (we won’t), our government will deliberately choose to break the law. This is bad. Even worse than when we facilitated the departure of al Bashir in 2017, because then at least we could say Zuma was in charge. Now we have Ramaphosa and a court case making it clear that if war criminals arrive in South Africa we have to arrest them.

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