The National Assembly held a debate on the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the South African economy, sponsored by the leader of the official opposition, Mr John Steenhuisen.

In his opening remarks, Mr Steenhuisen cautioned against the government’s neutral stance. He warned that when South Africans begin to feel the impact of rising fuel, wheat, maize prices and Eskom finds it difficult to secure diesel to burn its turbines, the reality will sink in that this is also our war.

“We are already involved in this war. Our government can’t be seen to be supporting Russia’s aggression and alienate its trading partners. Let’s put the country before party politics and think what this war will mean to us and what will be its impact on our economy.”

The Deputy Minister of the Department of International Relations Cooperation, Ms Candith Mashego-Dlamini, retorted that South African will remain steadfast in its search for a peaceful resolution to conflicts. “We have always maintained our stance of upholding dialogue and diplomacy as mechanisms that can bring about peaceful settlements to conflicts.” These are principles informed by the United Nation Charter on international relations, Ms Mashego-Dlamini said.

That is why the government urged Ukraine and Russia to use diplomacy to avert any further escalation of the conflict. South Africa has good relationships with both countries, she pointed out, and continues to support the involvement of the United Nations’ Secretary General in finding a lasting resolution.

Member of Parliament Mr Floyd Shivambu said the South Africa has a blood bond with Russia, after Russia supported the liberation struggle against western colonial imperialism and provided military support to the fight against apartheid. “We won’t support NATO’s expansionist and imperialist agenda.” South Africa should rather strengthen our cooperation and economic alliance with Russia.

Echoing this perspective, Mr Supra Mahumapelo, also pointed to the historical ties between South Africa and Russia that informs the South African government’s stance on this conflict. Those who oppose government position in this conflict “are products of colonialism and should never be allowed to set an agenda for Africa. Their global imperial and its philosophy will be suffocated defeated,” he said.

Member of Parliament Mr Mkhuleko Hlengwa said South Africa should acknowledged that it is wrong for Russia to impose its will on the sovereignty of other countries. Neutrality could simply be seen to be condoning aggression. “You can’t prevent a war by starting a war. We should condemn Putin’s egoistic war.”

Dr Pieter Groenewald concurred that the South African government should condemn Russia as a friend, “if not, it will see you as a useful idiot,” he said.

Another Member of Parliament Rev Kenneth Meshoe said the conflict will not be resolved by condemnation of one side against the other. He asked why President Cyril Ramaphosa only called the Russian President and the Ukrainian one as well. The conflict affects us all, he said. “Let’s allow peaceful mediation to take place. We want peace not war.”

Mr Brett Herron called on South Africa to use its mediation experience to end the conflict. “There’s no country better positioned to broker peace in this conflict than South Africa. We have done so in Northern Ireland. Let’s utilise this currency and play a meaningful role in convincing these countries that the lasting solution to their conflict is negotiation and compromise.”

Mr Bantu Holomisa criticised the United Nations for doing nothing in the face of escalating aggression to world peace and political stability. He said the organisation is nothing but a talk shop, “a toothless body that has no resolute leadership”.

Mr Ahmed Shaik Emam said it would be unfair to blame Russia in this conflict. He said Russia is doing all it can to protect its sovereignty, which is constantly encroached by NATO. “Russia has been warning NATO to stay away from its borders to no avail. They saw this as a threat to its republic. That’s why there’s this conflict today” he concluded.

Mr Mzwanele Thyontso called for South Africa to take a stand and condemn the United States and Russia for threatening us with World War 3. To neutralise their aggression, “they should not have veto power in the UN Security Council. And must allow Africa to have a permanent seat in it.”

“As stated by the Secretary General of UN, this conflict is an assault on the poor and marginalised because it would have a lasting impact of the food value chain. As a result, the future looks bleak food security and food supply is now at risk more than ever before,” Mr Thyontso said.

Member of Parliament Mr William Madisha said: “This conflict will lead to more unemployment and lower our 2021/2022 gross domestic product (GDP) than previously projected. To date, R77 billion of South Africa businesses in Russia have been affected by this conflict.”

Giving the economic scenarios that are likely to befall South Africa in the wake of this conflict, the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr David Masondo, admitted that it poses significant risks to our economic outlook, but its effect has not yet been fully realised. Much of what will be affected is wheat, maize and oil supplies. The increase in price of these house hold staples will add to inflation and will reduce the disposal income of consumers.

To mitigate this, he said: “We are in talks with the Department of Minerals and Energy to see how we can review the fuel levy, but we have to be cautious about this. It can’t be hastily done, because it could have an undesirable impact on other industries.”

However, he assured the House that trade between South Africa, Russia and Ukraine is minimal. Nonetheless, any sanctions could impact on our trading partners and these shocks will be felt in the South African economy. The only positive effect of the conflict is the resurgence in the gold price. He emphasised President Ramaphosa’s call for the conflict to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.

Abel Mputing

17 March 2021