Sadly, Frederik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela are no longer presidents of South Africa.

Russia Africa Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pose for a photo during a meeting with a delegation of African leaders and senior officials in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday. Ramaphosa is effectively backing Putin’s war against Ukraine and is seeking an exemption from its obligation to arrest Putin for war crimes, so he might to travel to Johannesburg for a meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Evgeny Biyatov/Photo host Agency RIA Novosti via AP

If either was – those two men who shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their dramatic and courageous transfer of power to majority rule in Africa’s most important country – we would not be faced with the corruption-ridden regime of Cyril Ramaphosa, supporting Russia in its barbaric war in Ukraine.

Ramaphosa is effectively backing Vladimir Putin’s war against an independent country, the first full-scale aggression in Europe since World War II.

Ramaphosa’s administration is seeking a legal exemption from its obligation, as a member of the International Criminal Court, to arrest Putin for war crimes, so that the Russian president might travel to Johannesburg for an August meeting of the leaders of the so-called BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Putin, who is afraid of his shadow, is unlikely to go to that meeting. Nevertheless, the willingness of Ramaphosa to lead his government to back the Russian attack on Ukraine remains a striking indictment of a regime that misreads history. Ramaphosa and his allies cite the Soviet Union’s support for the African National Congress against the apartheid regime in South Africa as a rationale for their cozy relationship with Putin’s dictatorship.

South Africa’s leaders claim they are still “non-aligned.” They are not. They just want to continue to receive the eighth-largest amount of U.S. foreign aid – about $1.1 billion a year.


The facts are plain.

Ramaphosa welcomed Russia’s foreign minister to South Africa earlier this year. After initially criticizing Russia’s invasion, South Africa abstained on United Nations votes to condemn it. South Africa took part in military exercises in February with Russian and Chinese warships.

If Ramaphosa and his clique respected history, instead of citing long-ago support of a dead and discredited empire, they should look back to 1986, when the U.S. Congress passed sweeping sanctions legislation against the white minority regime in South Africa. The sanctions were passed by an 78-21 bipartisan Senate vote over President Ronald Reagan’s veto, with 31 Republicans joining 47 Democrats in one of the rarest overturns of a presidential veto in the 20th century.

The sanctions effectively shut off South Africa from all economic and military relations with the United States at a time of American dominance on the world stage that led a few years later to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Within five years, one of the most dramatic transitions in government ever occurred when de Klerk released Mandela from prison and engineered a transfer of power from the white minority regime to the Black majority. De Klerk opened the 1990 South African parliament with a courageous speech calling for a “new South Africa.”

Referring to negotiations with Black leaders, de Klerk said: “The aim (of these talks) is a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity in every sphere of endeavor.”

De Klerk did not cite U.S. sanctions, but he was well aware of the growing isolation of his country by both American and European nations, especially their banks, and urged his political allies “to be aware of the dramatic changes in the international order. It is an unstoppable tide.”

1989 and 1990 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of Germany, the Desert Storm defeat of Saddam Hussein and, in 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union. De Klerk added specifically: “The year of 1989 will go down in history as the year in which Stalinist Communism expired.”

That is the history Ramaphosa and his government should be taking into account, not the brutal effort by Putin to recreate that Stalinist Soviet empire with a cruel and primitive war.

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