EFF leader Julius Malema has vowed that if need be, he would pick Vladimir Putin up from the airport and escort him to the BRICS meetings, and no one would touch the Russian leader.
GOVERNMENT has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been formally invited to attend the 15th BRICS summit scheduled for August, but the matter has become a headache for Pretoria after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant of arrest for the Russian leader.
The ICC, which South Africa is a signatory to, has issued the warrant of arrest for Putin for allegedly committing war crimes in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. South Africa would be obliged to arrest Putin and hand him over if he sets foot on its soil.
However, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor, in a interview with SAfm, highlighted that the ICC has not been “even-handed” as an arbiter in international affairs.
Pandor said while she has not said the ICC is “wrong” in issuing the warrant of arrest against Putin, she expressed deep misgivings regarding the international court’s decision, arguing that the ICC has not been an impartial arbiter on the global arena, turning a blind eye to other atrocities.
“Well, I have not used the word ‘wrong’, but I expressed a view of even-handedness. I believe there are many atrocities that are occurring in the world, and all human beings should be protected – not those living in particular regions or countries,” she said.
The minister said she understands that many South Africans are concerned about Pretoria’s “reticent” approach with regards to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, given the strong historical bonds between Russia and South Africa and the massive support during the struggle against apartheid.
“I have found actually that there are many South Africans who believe that the government is being rather reticent to Russia, given the history. So, there are different opinions across the country, it is not all the way an attitude of total objection to Russia,” she said.
“There are some saying the Russians stood with us in the dark days of the history of this country. Why are we here reticent to speak out? And we said, no, we are concerned about the situation of the people of Ukraine. What we would want to do is to be in a position where we can continue to engage with both countries, to persuade them towards peace.”
On Friday, Pandor said stemming from the 2015 court debacle when South Africa did not arrest Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who had an ICC warrant of arrest, Pretoria understands that it has a legal obligation in line with the ICC directive.
“We are awaiting a refreshed legal opinion on the matter, but that is the position as I understand it at the moment. We continue to be a member State of the Rome treaty,” said Pandor.
She said the matter of Putin’s invitation and the ICC warrant of arrest would be discussed at a Cabinet meeting, once she has a legal opinion.
Pandor conceded that withdrawing the invitation sent out to Putin at this stage would possibly stymie the landmark BRICS summit set for South Africa.
“Probably it would. I suspect everybody would then have lesser interest in attending, so it is a matter we need to give attention to. I am sure the president (Cyril Ramaphosa) will speak to other heads of State.
“It (BRICS) is a forum which the five leaders have a very close relationship, and they are in constant contact, so I think they would be speaking now.
“But for our purposes, we must look at the legal position, discuss and arrive at a desired outcome for the purposes of South Africa.
“As we have said in the past, we have always had this concern that there isn’t an even-handed approach by the ICC, and you will recall that South Africa had been concerned about its (ICC) tendency to focus on African leaders.
“We had discussed this in the context of the AU and had agreed that, let us try and see whether the institution would reform and have an even-handed approach where all abuses of international law receive equal treatment. And I think that is still a challenge for the ICC in particular, given what is happening in Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and many other areas,” said Pandor.
South Africa is chairing the BRICS group of countries this year under the theme: “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism”.
South Africa is set to host the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China at the 15th BRICS Summit from August 22 to 24.
The BRICS group brings together some 3.2 billion people.
On Thursday, EFF leader Julius Malema weighed in on the matter, vowing to protect Putin if the Russian leader comes to South Africa for the summit.
“Putin is welcome here, and no one is going to arrest Putin. If need be, we are going to fetch Putin from the airport, take him to his meeting, where he will address and finish his meetings, and we will take him back to the airport,” Malema told journalists in Joburg.
“We are not going to be told by these hypocrites of the International Criminal Court who know the real violators of human rights, the murderers of this world.
“The former prime minister (of England) Tony Blair admitted that he made a horrible mistake when it comes to Saddam Hussein – they have not been charged today. Bush is still there, and they have not been charged. Barack Obama killed (Muammar) Gaddafi, and nothing has happened.”
Malema said Libya has been destroyed and is unable to recover “because of America”.
“We know very well that where Nato gets involved, those are terrorists. We know very well that when the US says we are going to install peace, there will no longer be peace as long as America visits that place. We do not want ICC hypocrisy to apply here in our country,” he said.
“President Putin is welcome; we know our friends, we know the people who liberated us, we know the people who supported us. In Cuito Cuanavale (a town in Angola), the weapons that were used there that led to the liberation of South Africa were coming from Russia.
“Russia supplied us with weapons in Cuito Cuanavale and Cuba supplied us with soldiers – the MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe) was drunk,” he added.
South Africa was caught up in a similar situation in 2015 when it did not arrest former president of Sudan Omar al-Bashir when he was attending the African Union summit in Johannesburg.
Political parties went to court to challenge the government for not arresting Al-Bashir, who was later toppled in his country.
Putin is expected to attend the BRICS summit with Ramaphosa, President Xi Jinping of China, President Lula da Silva of Brazil and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Xi has met Putin this week in the Chinese leader’s first visit to Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine.
On the other hand, the DA said Ramaphosa should not allow Putin to attend the BRICS summit, unless he intends to arrest the Russian leader the moment he sets foot on South African soil.
“The DA calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa to prioritise the country’s reputation and well-being over that of Russian president Vladimir Putin and ensure that he is not among the leaders set to attend the BRICS summit in South Africa in August,” said DA Member of Parliament Darren Bergman.
“The ICC’s issuing of a warrant for Putin’s arrest for alleged war crimes should serve as a final warning to the ANC that while the governing party might make light of the invasion of a neighbouring country, the international community does not.”
The ruling ANC has refused to be drawn on whether the South African government would act in line with the ICC directive to arrest Putin if he set foot in the country.
ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said they still wanted a peaceful solution to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.