‘Food aid being used to pressure neutral African countries over Ukraine’, says ANC’s Zulu

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Tuesday, 19 July 2022 16:53

ANC member Lindiwe Zulu reacts as she waits for the election results during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg
ANC member Lindiwe Zulu reacts as she waits for the election results during the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 18, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) has expressed concern that humanitarian aid is being used to pressure African countries into expressing support for Ukraine following its invasion by Russia five months ago.

Lindiwe Zulu, the head of the ANC’s international relations subcommittee, told The Africa Report on Monday 18 July that the steep rise in the price of oil and food can lead to instability.

“You see the dynamics of the world itself. You can see the dynamics of how governments can easily be toppled when people don’t have anything,” she said when asked whether there is a feeling that Western countries are selective in their assistance to African countries with regards to food security.

“When people see that there’s poverty, there’s hunger; you see what is happening in Sri Lanka, and we believe that must not be used against people.”

She said the toppling of the government in Sri Lanka could “play itself out in the African continent in a big way”.

Sanctions extended?

South Africa and a number of other African countries have assumed a “neutral” stance on the conflict in Ukraine. Zulu said President Cyril Ramaphosa “has been engaging on both sides” while Zulu has also met with both the ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine.

Although a number of countries have imposed targeted sanctions on trade with Russian companies, South Africa has not followed suit. Many ANC leaders, including Zulu, were assisted by the former Soviet Union with asylum and training during the pre-1994 struggle against apartheid.

More recently, the party has received funding from oligarchs like Viktor Vekselberg whose United Manganese of Kalahari is in a joint venture with the ANC’s funding front, Chancellor House.

If they’re going to be targeting countries that are in business with Russia, we know a lot of South Africans across the board have got businesses with Russia

Zulu said the ANC’s stance is not informed by money, but rather by principle. According to her, the party would not be in financial trouble if it indeed had received millions from the Russians. She however expressed fear that sanctions against Russian companies could be extended to those who trade with those companies.

Washington’s House Foreign Affairs Committee has advanced the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act targeting, among other things, Russian private military contractors, political influencers and troll farms.

The law could negatively affect African countries that choose to maintain ties with Russia as well as the ANC’s current joint venture.

“That on its own is pressure. It’s very practical pressure,” she said. “If they’re going to be targeting countries that are in business with Russia, we know a lot of South Africans across the board have got businesses with Russia. Some big business[es] have […] relations with Russia.”

Such laws would have a negative impact on these businesses.

Russian business mission

Already, Russian businesses are looking for new opportunities to circumvent the sanctions and a half-day event is set to take place in the business hub of Sandton on Wednesday 20 June.

Zulu is set to be one of the keynote speakers at the seminar, which is organised by the Russian International Business Mission in South Africa alongside Russian ambassador to South Africa Ilya Rogachev. Other speakers include representatives of local oil, gas and engineering companies in Africa.

The meeting will consider “conditions and mechanisms for entering the market” with reference to Russian businesses in South Africa. There will be a focus on regulations, challenges in the market, and on credit guarantees and insurance for Russian companies operating here.

The businesses sectors targeted are mechanical engineering, especially in the fields of agriculture and commodities, and infrastructure.

Zulu said a number of ANC-aligned businesspeople, who had close ties to Russia during South Africa’s liberation struggle, are involved in organising the meeting, which will also feature trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel as a speaker.

However, Patel’s office said he is unlikely to make it to the forum as he is hosting an all-day conference elsewhere in Sandton on the same day.

The Ukrainian Association of South Africa has been applying pressure to prevent the meeting from happening, but it appears that it will go ahead as planned.

Grain corridors

Even so, South Africa has been supporting efforts to enable the export of grain from Ukraine, something that is being prevented by a Russian blockade at Ukraine ports.

Negotiators hope to get approval from President Vladimir Putin on 19 July for a provisional deal between Russian and Ukrainian officials to enable export of 20 to 25 million tons of grain and fertiliser, according to a UN Security Council source.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to raise this with Putin during a regional conference in Tehran on the same date, the source says. There were hopes that Putin would sign off, politically, on the deal during a phone call between the two last week, but that didn’t happen.

A number of African countries are facing fertiliser shortages and high grain prices due to the conflict.

Turkish and UN officials were involved in negotiations to broker the deal, which involves a safe corridor for ships carrying grain and fertiliser from Ukrainian ports across the Black Sea, without the need for Ukraine to de-mine the area, the source says.

The safe passage will only apply to grain and fertiliser, which does not require that sanctions be lifted as these “don’t apply to humanitarian food exports”, the source says.

A number of African countries are facing fertiliser shortages and high grain prices due to the conflict.

No discrimination

Richer countries have donated millions of dollars to humanitarian programmes and the UNSC source pointed out that this is in stark contrast to the $3.5m that Russia has given so far.

The source adds that in contrast to what Zulu claims has been undue pressure, the food security assistance is not conditional to countries assuming a certain position on the conflict, but it is donated to the UN’s humanitarian agencies and programmes like the World Food Programme to disburse.

“That money is used where it is needed and where the need is identified by the UN. That is an absolute commitment and it has nothing at all to do with the way countries decide to vote in various (UN) General Assembly and (UN) Security Council resolutions,” the source says. “It is all about getting money and aid to people who are truly suffering in these circumstances.”

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