Govt’s stance on Ukraine-Russia conflict appears unclear, as fighting continues

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Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele.
Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele.
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  • As fighting between Russia and Ukraine escalates, there appears to be no synergy on South Africa's stance on the matter.
  • Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele says the government's stance remains for parties to negotiate and mediate.
  • This contrasts with a statement from the international relations and cooperation department calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

The call by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine appears to be in direct conflict with the country's highest office.

On Sunday, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele, who represents President Cyril Ramaphosa, said the government's stance remained for parties to negotiate and mediate.

"Over and above that, it is the stance of this country that we will always prefer peaceful solutions. We will always be opposed to any conflict that leads to a loss of life. We are not prepared to say anything beyond that," he added.

READ | SA maintains 'cordial and friendly' relationship with Russia despite invasion of Ukraine

Gungubele addressed the media on Sunday, on behalf of the security cluster, in response to Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address two weeks ago.

In a strongly worded statement earlier this week, the department expressed its dismay at the escalating conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

In a statement issued on Thursday it said: "South Africa calls on Russia to immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine in line with the United Nations Charter, which enjoins all member states to settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice are not endangered.

"South Africa emphasises respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. As a nation birthed through negotiation, South Africa is always appreciative of the potential dialogue has in averting a crisis and de-escalating conflict," the statement read.

On Sunday, Russia attacked Ukrainian oil and gas facilities, officials said.

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This sparked massive explosions, and a blast was heard after an air raid siren in the capital Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukrainian forces were resisting a Russian advance.

Western countries have also imposed heavy sanctions against Russia, and several European countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines.

Some 368 000 people have fled abroad, the UN refugee agency said on Sunday, citing data provided by national authorities.

When further pressed on the question if it is the official position that Russia should withdraw, Gungubele said: "Where I stand, the president said he prefers a mediated situation in Russia. We will always discourage any conflict that leads to the loss of life. We are not going to comment beyond that."

On Sunday, department spokesperson Clayson Monyela tweeted: "SA students and other Africans have been badly treated at the Ukrain/Poland border. [South African] ambassador J Mngomezulu has driven from Warsaw [5 hours] to go deal with the matter, receive our nationals and offer further support. Ambassador G Tsengiwe in Hungary is also attending to South Africans on his side."

READ HERE | Calls for SA to join sanctions against Russia as Ukraine invasion intensifies

Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thandi Modise said so far the SA National Defence Force had not been asked to evacuate South Africans in Ukraine.

"If and when the need arises, we will inform you. South Africa believes in dialogue, and we are hoping that dialogue will be followed in this situation," Modise said.

The ANC also added its voice to the escalating violence in Ukraine.

The chairperson of its international relations sub-committee, Lindiwe Zulu, said: "The ANC strongly believes that it must be the parties, who are directly involved in the conflict, that must not only commit but come to the negotiating table for resolution of such conflict.

"History is littered with wars that have been ended or even averted through negotiations. However, the dismal failure of the UN cannot be swept under the carpet, more so that, when some world leaders are openly biased in their judgement."

An earlier version of the story incorrectly attributed the statement issued by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. The story has since been edited. 

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