“If we don’t end this war, we might get much worse than we can imagine”

ZDF interview with South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, about the war in Ukraine and South Africa’s attitude

cc. On 27 June 2022, the German “heute journal” broadcasted an interview with South African Foreign Minister Dr Naledi Pandor, which can be found at full length in the ZDF media library (in German).1 Naledi Pandor was an invited guest at the G7 conference in Elmau. At this point we can only print excerpts from a transcript of the interview. We recommend in particular that you also listen to the interview - because it makes it even clearer with how much dignity and sincerity the South African Foreign Minister answered.

At the outset, the Foreign Minister is being asked what importance she attached to the G7 in solving key international problems. She answers:
“I think the G7 is a very important global forum, insofar as the most powerful economies in the world are gathered there. G7 leaders have a very important obligation to the world to find solutions to the issues you raise, to ensure that there is peace, that people and their communities can live in safety, live their lives, having stability and engage themselves for progress. We have been talking about climate change for many years, and yet we all know that the obligations of the most powerful have not been met. The world is now looking to the advanced countries and wanting them to fulfill the commitments they also reaffirmed in Glasgow at COP 26.2 I think the world is right to expect that the G7 should find practical solutions.”

Immediately afterwards, the interviewer says that the G7 are in the process of “getting the rest of the world to condemn Russia” because of the war in Ukraine. But there is “the impression that South Africa is not really on the side of this West”. This is followed by the leading question as to whether the Foreign Minister is of the opinion that “Ukraine should win this war”. Her reply:
“The issues that lie at the heart of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia have been discussed around the world for more than ten years. Africa was never invited to the table to discuss these issues. You can’t say at this point: ‘Choose one side or the other!’ We were not involved in all these factors that led to the current situation. We have made that clear. Our position is:
    The world has a responsibility to seek and strive for peace, and we believe that truly powerful political leaders, whether they support Ukraine or oppose it, have the ability and also the leadership-capability to work together on a solution.
    We are appalled to see that in this conflict, where thousands are losing their lives, where infrastructure is being destroyed, those responsible are unable to do what South Africa did: we sat down at the table, negotiated and found a solution, thanks to which the war will end. We demanded that! We said clearly: we cannot take sides. We haven’t been a party before. But we want peace!”

The interviewer claims that Russia is “the aggressor” after all. Her reply:
“As I said, we will not fall prey to the temptation to speak the language of others in order to choose sides. What we are saying is this: there are clearly issues that have been divisive for years, these issues need to be resolved. And I have already said: the issues affecting Ukraine, its security, must be resolved, but the issues affecting Russia and its security must also be resolved. […] Using derogatory terms regarding Russia or Ukraine is not helpful, does not bring peace. The responsibility of political leaders – Nelson Mandela showed this – is to negotiate for peace, to sit down, to talk.
    We’ve been encouraged all over the world to talk to our enemies who have thrown our parents in jail, who have killed our families. And we were told: ‘Talk to them, find a solution!’ And that’s what we expect now, that’s what we’re saying now. That is South Africa’s approach.”

The interviewer tries to change the foreign minister’s mind. After all, South Africa had received a lot of support against the apartheid regime, which he describes as an aggressor, and now Ukraine needs the same support from South Africa. Her answer:
“As I’ve said time and again in the past, South Africa has always expressed its appreciation to the international community for the solidarity they have shown us against apartheid. But you will remember that we were never given weapons, nobody, that we were not supported in this armed conflict, in this struggle. No, we were reviled as terrorists when there was very little fighting, armed, in South Africa. The kind of support you see for Ukraine today, no freedom fighter in Africa has ever enjoyed. So, it’s one of the things we’ve said over and over again that we treat all countries that are oppressed the same way. We must be as alarmed at Shirin Abu Akli’s assassination3 as we should be appalled at the lack of freedom for the Palestinian people. We don’t treat different things differently. Indeed, we say: Violating a country’s sovereignty in a hostile manner is a violation of the UN Charter. We’ve said that in public time and again. But we insist that such a conflict – a war of this kind! – can only be solved through negotiation. I am convinced that in the end everyone will be sitting at the table.”

She is provocatively asked what should be negotiated. She answers:
“I don’t know that! You never know what negotiations, once they have begun, will yield in the end. But people have a wish, a hope. One of the concerns for Ukraine must be its integrity, its security. What are the characteristics that can ensure this? That has to come up at the table. As for Russia, Russia has repeatedly voiced certain concerns and fears. How to deal with it? And my line of reasoning is this: the great political leaders of this world, who run the greatest economies, certainly have the arsenal of possibilities to find a solution, and I don’t see anything there yet, not yet a strong diplomatic offensive!
    We believe that the United Nations, the Secretary General, must be on board and such a diplomatic approach must be installed. For example, we have requested that a number of highly renown and trusted international interlocutors should be asked to lay down the keel of such a process. We shouldn’t leave that to the missiles and the killing that’s going on there right now. We should seek a cease-fire as an immediate outcome and then a detailed process of negotiating a solution that will bring security and peace.”

The interviewer asks the foreign minister about sanctions against Russia. So far South Africa would not participate in these sanctions. He criticises this. The Foreign Minister replied:

“South Africa is a very small economy in the world. We are important in Africa but very small globally and Russia is a very small trading partner of South Africa. The big trading partners for us are Western Europe, America and of course China. These regions are of great interest to us from a commercial point of view. But may I come back to the topic of sanctions and state that at the moment the imposed sanctions are causing great damage, not only in Russia, but throughout the world, in the entire international community. In my country there are protests against the development of oil prices, which have increased massively. Cooking oil prices almost doubled in three months. Sanctions clearly have effects that go beyond the intended goals. And that’s something you might not always think about when imposing sanctions. There are countries that have no bread, others have no grain. Very small businesses, very normal micro-enterprises, where women who make a living from it can no longer work because they don’t have the cooking oil to produce the food they want to sell on the streets. So, that’s a wide range of effects that sanctions are causing national political instability in many countries – we see that every day!
    I do think that we should actually look at how we can initiate a process, one that leads to a ceasefire and secondly, a dedicated negotiation process so that a solution that reassures both countries can be reached, and the whole region, not just these two countries.”

Again provocatively, the interviewer continues with the question of who is responsible for the hunger that is now looming in the world. She replies:
“This is a multi-faceted occurrence with many reasons. Take Africa. We have huge regions of farmland, and they don’t grow grain, which is supposed to be the case. So, the African politicians are responsible for not engaging themselves enough in agriculture. Apart from that, the sanctions have an effect because there are no grain exports either. But I must point out to you the fact that I will not use any rebuking words, because that does not move things forward for anyone. You and other journalists would like to hear that from me ‘Russia did that’, ‘Ukraine that’. But that’s not the approach we chose. We want Ukraine and Russia to know that South Africa – and the entire continent of Africa – is ready to play any role possible to secure the peace. That is our interest. No insults, no blame, it’s pointless, that doesn’t help. What we should do, in what we utter and articulate, we should use the language that leads to such a result that saves people’s lives.”

The foreign minister is asked whether South Africa would like to act as a negotiator. She answers:
“South Africa is so tiny compared to the powerful political leaders in the G7, but South Africa has some experience in dealing with a conflict resolution process and that’s why we say: We are ready if someone invites and asks us. We’re not part of the club, if I may say so myself, but we’re ready to play our part in the global community.”

The interviewer continues to try to lead the foreign minister up the garden path. He insinuates that the ANC has “particularly romantic ideas about Moscow because the Soviet Union was very helpful to black people at the time of segregation.” And he continues: “But Ukraine was also part of the Soviet Union at the time. Doesn’t this sympathy thus quasi also apply to the Ukraine?” Her answer:
“You answer the question yourself: Russia is not the Soviet Union. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine supported our struggle, they trained some of our people. And for that we are forever grateful. It is for this very reason that we say: the people of Ukraine deserve peace. And all of us in power should focus on bringing about peace. I don’t think the problem is as huge as it was in World War II, for example. But if we don’t stop this war, it could get a lot worse than we can imagine. What I think we should do as civil society, as media, is to appeal to those leaders who are saying all sorts of things on this matter, who actually seem involved, that the time has come for them not just to talk, but to use their political weight to find a solution.”

2In November 2021, the 26th World Climate Conference (COP 26) took place in Glasgow.
3Shirin Abu Akli was a dedicated Palestinian journalist who was killed in May 2022, most likely by an Israeli soldier.

(Translation from the German Current Concerns)


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