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SA to mediate in Russia-Ukraine conflict

SA has been asked to mediate in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

This is according to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who said the request was discussed in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Ramaphosa said he told Putin the conflict between the two European countries should be settled through negotiations.

He did not give details about how he planned to work with the two countries, but said SA was approached to mediate due to its historical ties to Russia and as a member of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA).

“President Putin appreciated our balanced approach. We believe this position enables both parties to subject the conflict to mediation and negotiation. Based on our relations with the Russian Federation and as a member of Brics, SA has been approached to play a mediation role,” said Ramaphosa.

This is not the first time SA has been asked to mediate conflicts in other countries. 

Here are four times SA has been called on to intervene;

eSwatini

Last year, the Swaziland Solidarity Network appealed to the SA government to intervene amid weeks of rolling mass action calling for an end to the regime under King Mswati III.

The eSwatini government shut down the internet as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital.

The network said the situation in the landlocked nation had reached boiling point.

“If they allow blood to spill, there may not be any soap to wash the blood. The situation may be so dire that people will flee to SA.

“SA will find itself absorbing half the Swazi population, which will add to the burden already created by Zimbabweans and many other African refugees who are in SA. It’s in the best interest of SA to intervene on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc),” said the network’s spokesperson Lucky Lukhele.

King Mswati III remains in power.

Lesotho 

In 2018, Ramaphosa appointed former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to lead the mediation team of Sadc facilitation in the Kingdom of Lesotho.

The decision was in line with the resolution taken at the Sadc Double Troika Summit held in Luanda, Angola, to encourage reform processes in that country.

This is where it was decided Ramaphosa should continue with the facilitation, and recommended he appoint high-level personalities to support him.

“I take this opportunity to thank justice Moseneke for availing himself to support us in this important mandate as we continue to assist our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of Lesotho in their search for a lasting and sustainable solution to their political and security challenges,” said Ramaphosa.

An international peace and security report by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia found that while there was some success in mediation, “the continued political infighting between the government and opposition parties threatens the national dialogue process and the implementation of the multi-sector reform in general”.

In 2019 it said despite the intervention, “the full restoration of peace and normalcy in Lesotho has yet to be achieved”.

Trends in SADC Mediation and Long-Term Conflict Transformation author Dimpho Deleglise argued that mediation efforts by Ramaphosa in the country ultimately failed because of his errors in “its impartiality, inclusivity, and its ability to address a host of proximate and underlying causes of Lesotho’s recurrent conflict”.

Mozambique

In 2016, the former leader of Mozambique’s rebel movement Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, called on former president Jacob Zuma to mediate in the country, saying he was favourably disposed towards mediating in the conflict between Renamo and the Mozambican government.

However, eNCA reported that former international relations and co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Dhlakama had not contacted the SA government.

She said Mozambique “has a democratically elected government” and the opposition sits in parliament. Thus, if somebody in the Mozambican opposition were to approach the SA government, the first thing Zuma’s cabinet would do would be to speak to the Mozambican government.

Dhlakama’s call came after Zuma was called in 2012 to mediate in Zimbabwe as part of SA’s responsibility as the Sadc mediator to facilitate the implementation of the Global Political Agreement.

According to several observers, SA’s mediation in Mozambique in 2016 and the early 1990s was rejected by parties on the grounds of perceived bias.

“The Sadc’s failure to collectively respond to the situation in Mozambique may be attributed to the shared perception of the country’s successful post-conflict status. Further, [Mozambique’s ruling party] Frelimo’s solidarity with Sadc member states ruled by liberation movements may view intervention as a betrayal of that solidarity,” claimed another international peace and security report by the Institute for Peace and Security Studies

Zimbabwe

In 2008, former president Thabo Mbeki was the region’s mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis with the backing of the SA government. 

Reuters reported that Mbeki brokered the deal between late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai that was to establish a unity government.

“Mr Mbeki’s facilitation efforts in Zimbabwe have proven his dispassionate vision for a lasting political solution to the challenges facing Zimbabwe,” said former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe. 

“Accordingly, our government has full confidence in Mr Mbeki’s ability to build on the historic successes already made in the power-sharing negotiations under his mediation.”

Despite Mbeki’s relative success, the Institute for Security Studies said in 2020 “the crisis seemed to be more or less exactly where it was in 2008, give or take a few changes in the players on both sides of the yawning political divide”.

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