The reception for Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Pretoria was decidedly friendly. Naledi Pandor, her South African colleague, greets her with kisses on the left and kisses on the right. She will later talk about the “very important strategic partnership”. And about her desire to present projects on the “Women, Peace, Security” agenda to the guest from Berlin, an advocate of feminist foreign policy. So many points of contact. Relations, formalized in a bilateral commission chaired by the two ministers and meeting in the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, are close – but not without friction.
At first there were considerable differences of opinion about how to proceed in the fight against the Covid pandemic. Above all, however, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine resulted in arguments between representatives of Western countries and South Africa, where the government for a long time did not want to speak of war, but only of a “conflict”. Pandor also on Tuesday maintained a position of strict neutrality, which it says precludes condemning either side.
Friendship with Moscow is maintained in Pretoria
Baerbock, on the other hand, recently quoted anti-apartheid fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu in China: “Neutrality means taking the side of the aggressor.” In Pretoria, this prompted her to question at the press conference whether the references to him and freedom hero Nelson Mandela were intended to morally blackmail South Africa into taking sides.
“Not at one point” did South Africa support Russia, Pandor clarifies with a sharp voice. The US has even accused South Africa of supplying arms — a diplomatic scandal. Baerbock is committed to involving the country, not confrontation, which she doesn’t shy away from where she thinks it’s appropriate. And she is counting on the fact that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s trip to Ukraine, whom she met in his private home this afternoon, made an impression. In any case, the conversation lasted 75 minutes instead of the scheduled 30 minutes.
At the head of an African delegation from seven countries, he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev and also visited Bucha and Irpin – places that stand for Russian war crimes, places that Baerbock himself was deeply shocked. Ramaphosa traveled on to Saint Petersburg, to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Should Putin come to the Brics meeting, would he be arrested?
Like the foreign minister, however, he has been talking about a “war” for a long time. A subtle change of position? In any case, Pandor does not want to speak of a mutiny by the Wagner group under the mercenary leader under Yevgeny Prigozhin, no serious challenge for Putin, according to the embassy. They are sticking to their friendship with Russia. The State Department is plastered with Brics display stands. South Africa chairs the alliance this year, which also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China.
However, the government still has to find a way of dealing with Putin’s possible participation in the planned summit meeting in August. As a member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa would have to execute chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s arrest warrant against him. So far, there has only been one commitment from China, Pandor parries the demand. From Putin there is neither a commitment nor a rejection. When Moscow made a decision, South Africa’s position would be communicated to the world.
Baerbock, for whom the answer should be clear as an international law expert, leaves it at appeals. She promotes asking “what it would mean if we allowed wars of conquest to become normal again in the 21st century”. What it means when the world simply turns a blind eye to terrible human rights violations – and refers to the genocide in Darfur in western Sudan. Yes, the West has made mistakes too, is the message to the global South, whose voice South Africa sees itself as. Baerbock also addresses Germany’s support for the apartheid regime. History meets history. The GDR had supported the freedom movement, as had the Soviet Union. Russia has managed to use this legacy politically.
The hosts hope for investments, also with a view to climate change
Baerbock can counter this with the promise of even closer cooperation. In vaccine production, in trade, in vocational training. Pretoria would like more investment – and hopes above all for billions in the course of the “Just Energy Transition Partnership”, which is intended to counteract the climate crisis and promote renewable energies – all of this in a socially acceptable manner. Germany, France, the EU and Great Britain have 8.5 billion euros and the USA agreed. 1.1 billion come from Berlin, of which 300 million have been paid out.
Rolling power cuts of up to twelve hours a day are the biggest obstacle to growth in South Africa. Pandor names the outdated coal-fired power plants as the cause, but also demands that the change in energy supply must be in line with development goals. The mines provide jobs in a country that suffers from more than 30 percent unemployment.
In Germany, too, the challenges of phasing out coal are known, says Baerbock. She invites Pandor to a return visit. Then one could also talk in detail about feminist foreign policy – Baerbock had to skip the first day of her trip to discuss what was happening in Russia with her fellow EU foreign ministers. Pandor is unlikely to believe that the issue will have been resolved by then. The African peace initiative is “the start of a long process,” she says.