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Apology to Ambassador Abravitova and the people of Ukraine

As we celebrate Human Rights Day, let it be said loud and clear to the people of Ukraine that South Africans do not all share the immoral stance taken by President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC on Russia’s invasion of a peaceful nation, writes Adriaan Basson.


On 21 March 1960, 62 years ago on Monday, the PAC under its visionary leader, Robert Sobukwe, led an historic protest march against the apartheid state’s degrading pass book system.

Under apartheid, all black people (the broad definition) had to carry pass books that classified a person according to their race wherever they went. Caught without your pass book, you were locked up.

“African people have entrusted their whole future to us. And we have sworn that we are leading them, not to death, but to life abundant. My instructions, therefore, are that our people must be taught now and continuously that in this campaign we are going to observe absolute non-violence,” said Sobukwe a few days before the planned protest march.

What followed was one of the most brutal days of apartheid oppression. A police officer opened fire on the protesting crowd outside Sharpeville police office in Vereeniging. His colleagues followed suit and 69 protesters were slaughtered.

After the ANC came into power in 1994, 21 March was named Human Rights Day in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre.

In his address on this day in 1996, former president Nelson Mandela said:March 21 is the day on which we remember and sing praises to those who perished in the name of democracy and human dignity. It is also a day on which we reflect and assess the progress we are making in enshrining basic human rights and values… In the two years of democratisation, we have introduced a human rights culture unknown in the history of the country. Indeed, we compare favourably with most democracies and are in fact pioneers in a number of forms of social change, legislation and constitution making… We are at peace with our neighbours. Our relations are based on mutual co-operation and development. Gone are the days of conflict and intimidation.

This was a time when the ANC celebrated human rights and peace. The organisation and Mandela in particular played a meaningful role in pleading for an end to global conflict. Mandela never shied away from criticising aggressors, whoever they were.

It feels a lifetime ago from President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC of 2022’s refusal to acknowledge the horrors inflicted on Ukraine by Russia’s war.

While Ramaphosa and the ANC were defending Russia; refusing to acknowledge it as the aggressor; having late-night phone calls with the war criminal president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and making no effort whatsoever to reach out to Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova or her President Volodymyr Zelensky, to hear their side of the story, Russia was bombing a theatre in Mariupol where hundreds of women and children were hiding from the violence.

The word “children” written in huge white letters next to the theatre did not deter Putin’s dogs of war to kill the innocent.

Not even the bodies of dead children could move South Africa. The Mariupol massacre left Ramaphosa cold.

READ | Tinyiko Maluleke: It is Sharpeville Day. Not Human Rights Day

As South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day in 2022, it is time we apologise to Abravitova and her compatriots for our country’s pathetic and immoral response to the invasion of a democratically elected, peaceful nation.

Dear Ambassador Abravitova, please tell your people that not all of us are like Ramaphosa and the ANC. Please tell them about a time, 62 years ago, when our innocent people were also being slaughtered by an oppressive, brutal regime, and about the brave efforts of people like Sobukwe and Mandela to move our country and region to a democracy that respects human rights.

Please tell the Ukrainians the oppressed majority of South Africans know what it feels like to be ignored and shunned by world powers in your hour of need. Thank them for their assistance, as members of the erstwhile Soviet Union, to ANC comrades in the struggle against apartheid.

Remind them the ANC in its struggle against the oppressor of the time, the National Party government, called on the world to implement sanctions against South Africa to bring the oppressive regime to its senses. Tell them to keep believing good may ultimately triumph over evil.

And please tell them, Ambassador Abravitova, we are really, really sorry that our governing party, unrecognisable from the liberation movement that gave birth to it, and our president, who values his so-called relationship with Putin over human rights violations, have shown time and again that they feel f****l for the plight of innocent Ukrainians.

– Adriaan Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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