Presidency defends Ramaphosa after media asked to leave when Belgian delegate questioned Ukraine stance

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King Philippe of Belgium Queen Mathilde, with Cyril Ramaphosa and Lindiwe Zulu at the Union Buildings on Thursday.
King Philippe of Belgium Queen Mathilde, with Cyril Ramaphosa and Lindiwe Zulu at the Union Buildings on Thursday.
  • The Presidency defended Ramaphosa's call for journalists to leave the Cabinet room.
  • This was after Belgium's foreign affairs minister made veiled jabs at SA's relationship with Russia.
  • The Presidency said Ramaphosa was unfazed by the comments.

The Office of the Presidency defended President Cyril Ramaphosa's request for journalists to leave the Cabinet room after Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib made a few veiled jabs about South Africa's non-aligned stance on Ukraine.

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said: "It is standard practice for visiting heads of state and government - and indeed for President Ramaphosa - to raise publicly, during their opening remarks, issues for discussion during official talks.

"At the end of such opening remarks, media are routinely requested to excuse themselves, so that official talks can commence in private."

Despite it being the norm for Ramaphosa to ask the media to leave after the two heads of state and government had spoken, King Philippe requested that Lahbib be afforded the opportunity to speak, a request which Ramaphosa acceded to. 

Following Lahbib's comments, Ramaphosa indicated that he would want his ministers to "make interventions", but then asked the media to leave, seemingly not wishing them to be privy to what they would say next, whether be it a response to the Belgian foreign minister's comments. 

Magwenya said the minister's remarks served as the conclusion to the opening session. As such, there was nothing untoward about Ramaphosa asking the media to leave immediately after her sentiments. 

Magwenya added that "the matter of Ukraine was raised, not for the first time, by a Western trading partner, and President Ramaphosa restated SA's position on the need for a peaceful resolution to the conflict".

READ | Belgium had President Cyril Ramaphosa squirming with jabs about Russia during a royal visit

"The engagement between the two governments on the matter of Ukraine and the president's articulation of SA's position do not merit or justify News24's projection of these events," said Magwenya. 

He added that, immediately after talks behind closed doors, "President Ramaphosa and the visiting head of state or government report publicly on the talks and take questions at a media conference. However, this did not happen due to limitations placed on the king in pronouncing on political or public policy matters".

Magwenya's response came after News24 reported that Ramaphosa was left seemingly hot under the collar and chased journalists out of the room after Lahbib commented on SA's non-aligned foreign policy on Ukraine and SA's relationship with Russia.

Lahbib said, given SA's strong historic ties with Russia, the country would be delighted if it used its communication channels with Moscow to advance on a path towards peace in Ukraine. 

She said her country understood SA's stance on the matter, given its lack of proximity to the atrocities being committed in Ukraine. 

This took place during the state visit by Belgium's King Philippe and Queen Mathilde at the Union Buildings on Thursday. 

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