Russia-Ukraine war: Pandor warns SA diplomats from 'publicly or privately' criticising govt stance

Naledi Pandor.
Naledi Pandor.
  • Pandor warned ambassadors not to "publicly or privately" criticise the country's stance on the Russia-Ukraine war. 
  • She said the non-aligned policy on the conflict was for SA to maintain an independent foreign policy position.
  • Pandor addressed the opening session of the 2022 Heads of Mission Conference in Pretoria on Thursday.

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor warned South Africa's ambassadors and high commissioners not to "publicly or privately" criticise the country's controversial, non-aligned policy stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Pandor addressed the opening session of the 2022 Heads of Mission Conference in Pretoria on Thursday. 

Without getting into specifics, Pandor lamented how foreign dignitaries had been critical of South Africa's stance.

"Diplomats representing their countries in South Africa have publicly attacked our policy position, something I wish you will never do when you are in your designated countries," she said.

"We also need our senior diplomats to speak with one voice and defend the government's position on foreign policy issues, so that we avoid confusion.

"Portraying a positive image of SA when you are in public or in private... I know you have those private conversations with representatives of other countries, in the countries in which you are located, but even when you are whispering together, whisper positive things, don't whisper negatives," said Pandor. 

She said the heads of missions should take it upon themselves to help the president and the government to rebuild investor confidence. 

Similar sentiments were echoed by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he addressed the conference. 

READ | Russia-Ukraine: Naledi Pandor explains why SA 'cannot be seen to be taking sides'

"Our heads of mission should not only be ambassadors of the country's flag, but also be ambassadors of our economy as well," said Ramaphosa.

"As heads of mission, you are tasked with leading the drive to promote our country abroad. In this period of reconstruction and recovery, our foremost responsibility is to foster growth and employment. We want you to be ambassadors - not just for our flag, but for our economy."

He added:

You need to seek out new ways to grow trade and attract investment into South Africa. You need to pave the way for outbound investment into existing and new markets. We count on you to market abroad the immense opportunities that exist in the South African economy. The Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan is our roadmap, and each of you has an essential role to play in its implementation.

Like Pandor, Ramaphosa reiterated that South Africa would defend its non-aligned position as this maintained the country's independent foreign policy. 

"We will continue our efforts to bring about peace in a number of these conflict zones. South Africa will continue to leverage its membership in multilateral fora to advance the cause of peace. We will defend our non-aligned position and maintain an independent foreign policy," said Ramaphosa. 

Ramaphosa and Pandor's comments came after the country received heavy criticism, particularly from the US Embassy and the Ukraine Embassy. 

The US Embassy's chargé d'affaires, Todd Haskell, last month called on Ramaphosa's administration to take a tougher stance on Russia and to stop sitting on the fence with regard to the matter. 

READ MORE | US Embassy urges SA to stop sitting on the fence over Russia-Ukraine conflict

Pandor on Thursday said the country's non-aligned policy position did not mean the government was not critical of Russia's actions. 

South Africa's envoys will, throughout the three-day conference, be briefed on the strategic mandate and objectives of the current administration, with a special focus on economic recovery initiatives outlined during the 2022 State of the Nation Address.

Various ministers are expected to brief the heads of mission on their departmental programmes.

They will outline the expected support South Africa's representatives around the world can provide to the realisation of the government's Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan to address the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

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