SA leads the world in the art of pursuing peace amid conflict

Dr Naledi Pandor, has only recently spoken publicly about the secret Copenhagen Conference. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA)

Dr Naledi Pandor, has only recently spoken publicly about the secret Copenhagen Conference. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 14, 2024


SOUTH Africa’s morally upright position, geopolitical astuteness, and honest commitment to Nelson Mandela’s promise to support the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people dominated international public discourse this week.

This was in the wake of hauling the state of Israel to the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide in Gaza.

So far, Israel has killed just over 24 000 Palestinians in a wave of relentless, indiscriminate bombings of the Gaza Strip. Hospitals, UN-run refugee camps and schools, residential areas and anything that moves – from ambulances to livestock – has not been spared.

More than 10 000 children and over 6 000 women are part of the sad statistics in Israel’s so-called war on Gaza, where the Jewish military forces aided by the US military weaponry continue to wreak havoc in both the Gaza Strip and the rest of the occupied territories.

At the Hague-based ICJ this week, Israel defended itself against South Africa’s charges by claiming Hamas was responsible for the bulk of the deaths of Palestinians through their “misfiring rockets”. The Netanyahu administration also claimed that its war against Hamas as “self-defence”, and also charged that the international court lacked jurisdiction to make any ruling against the Jewish state.

But the above is not actually the core of today’s message. It is only a basis for the context of what is to follow.

Since June 2023, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been mobilising his enthusiastic supporters in the G7, EU and across the West in what has come to be known as the Copenhagen Conference, or talks.

In an endeavour to turn their conference into an international affair, a select group of the global south countries had also been invited. Notably, they happen to be members of BRICS. They are Brazil, India, China, and South Africa.

China declined the invitation by staying away. The “elephant in the room”, Russia, was never invited to the series of secret Copenhagen Conferences that had been looking into Zelensky’s 10-point plan, or conditions, for talks with the Kremlin that could lead to the suspension of the hostilities.

Without Russia’s involvement in the talks, or conference, it is inconceivable how an amicable solution would be found. After all, the stance of the bulk of the participants is well-known.

Their interest is no secret. They are active participants in the US-led imposition of economic sanctions against Moscow. They are also part of a collective that provides diplomatic cover to Kyiv. What, then, does the Copenhagen Conference wish to achieve in the absence of a key role player in the conflict, Russia?

Well, methinks the main objective is to help Ukraine to thrash out a position that will be a product of the “collective”. In this way, by the time the position of Ukraine is made public, the Copenhagen Conference participants would be able to tell their electorate that they are the co-authors, and therefore stand squarely behind Zelensky’s stance.

What is known, though, is the wide distance that exists between Zelensky and his Western backers on the one side and Moscow on the other. For example, part of Ukraine’s preliminary conditions for the negotiations with Russia is the total withdrawal from the territories that Russia already occupies and regard as belonging to Russia.

Take for instance Crimea, a former Ukrainian territory that broke away in 2014 in the aftermath of the violent overthrow from power of a pro-Russian Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych.

There is no way Moscow will agree to abandoning the Russian-speaking part of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine. In fact, Crimea originally belonged to Russia. The territory’s control was transferred by the former Soviet Union in 1954 to Soviet Ukraine.

And, in the latest hostilities between the two former Soviet next-door neighbours, the Donbas region, including Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine had voted in a referendum – just like Crimea did in 2014 – to secede from the jurisdiction of Kyiv.

This is a conundrum before the US, protagonist in the Russia-Ukraine war through Washington’s bottomless material and military support for Kyiv – as the Copenhagen Conference mull over the way-forward.

And in there emerges the importance of South Africa in the dialogue. The SA Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), Dr Naledi Pandor, has only recently spoken publicly about the secret Copenhagen Conference.

Pandor has appreciated the endeavour to work out a formula for peace, and the enthusiasm of the fellow participants. But Pandor is a realist of note. She’s also known to be erudite and straight-talking even though her utterances are carefully laced with diplomatic language and decorum.

Speaking to the SABC recently, Pandor laid bare what was until then confined to the corridors of the Copenhagen Conference perimeter.

She said the time has now come for the Copenhagen Conference to invite Russia to the talks. Indeed, Pandor is, as is the case in most instances, correct.

Until Russia is invited to take her seat at the discussion table, the Copenhagen Conference could well be an expensive waste of time. Militarily, Moscow is not scared of Nato, the US or the West put together.

The nuclear power, the former heartbeat of the Soviet Union, is a self-sustainable nation with a booming economy in spite of the Western sanctions imposed since the outbreak of the Ukraine conflict, a conflict triggered by Nato’s provocative expansion to the east.

There is no way that the West will defeat a nuclear power that is determined to protect its national interest and national security. Ukraine, unfortunately, will be the one that pays the ultimate price.

Russia can obliterate Ukraine at the press of a button. But then again, that is not the kind of war Moscow wants to fight. They want “assurance” that Ukraine shall never join Nato, because Russia does not need Nato on her door-step.

These are well-documented positions on all sides. I do not believe that they are, should be cast in stone. The art of diplomacy manifests itself in the moving parts at all times. There is also the very essence of diplomatic practice better-known as “give-and-take”.

South Africa, fresh from imploring the International Court of Justice to order Israel to stop at once Tel Aviv’s relentless genocidal bombardment of Gaza, offers a sobering way forward to ending the Ukraine conflict.

The African Peace Initiative (API), in which President Cyril Ramaphosa led a delegation of African leaders on a visit to Kyiv and Moscow in an attempt to broker a truce, has slowly become moribund.

It did not go much further in spite Russia’s expressed willingness to cooperate with the API. Clearly, Zelensky, the US and the NATO backers would not support an initiative that they regarded as not theirs.

However, South Africa does well by standing on the right side of history, by always pursuing a path of peace through dialogue, and invoking multilateral institutions to exercise their powers.

I hope that the West, and in particular the US and Ukraine, will wake up to the realisation that even in the hardest of times, only negotiations with your worst enemy can be a path to peaceful co-existence. This week, I am really proud of my government. Prouder, even more, to be a South African.