Blog - The ANC & SACP have forgotten the right of nations to self-determination

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The ANC & SACP have forgotten the right of nations to self-determination

Allison Drew

Russian tanks encircle Ukraine’s cities. Russian planes bomb homes, hospitals, schools, shopping malls, buses, trains and cars. Russian soldiers kill, wound, terrorize, kidnap and forcibly relocate Ukrainian civilians to Russia. A land empire predating the formation of the USSR, Russia is engaged in a brutal war of colonial conquest.

Despite the horror to which the Ukrainian people are subjected, the South African government purports neutrality. Following Russia’s unprovoked attack of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed South Africa’s ‘balanced approach’ and called for ‘mediation and negotiation’ (Mail & Guardian, 11 March 2022). Did he advocate a balanced approach to apartheid?

While most African countries condemned the invasion at the 2 March UN General Assembly vote, South Africa was among a minority that abstained. Likewise, South Africa was one of 58 states to abstain from the 7 April vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council; 24 opposed the suspension and 93 supported it.

President Ramaphosa blames the NATO military alliance of North American and European states: ‘The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region’ (Al Jazeera, 18 March 2022).

Indeed, NATO has expanded eastward following German reunification in 1990. With the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, former Soviet republics and Eastern Bloc countries have eagerly joined, while the IMF has paid Russia billions to allay its concerns. The US and Europe have long bickered over NATO’s enlargement, nonetheless agreeing that admitting Ukraine would be too provocative, given Russia’s security concerns. But in 2014 Ukraine replaced its pro-Russian president with a pro-European Union government; Russia, in turn, annexed Crimea. Crucially, however, Ukraine is not a NATO member and has no NATO troops.

What is behind the ANC’s stance?

Despite its nostalgia for the former Soviet Union’s backing for the armed struggle, the ANC’s de facto support for the invasion cannot be explained on economic or ideological grounds. As Hilary Lynd points out, this earlier Soviet support came from Ukraine, as well as Russia (Africa is a Country, 14 March 2022). In fact, South Africa distanced itself from Russia following the USSR’s collapse. Perhaps its current support for Russia lies in their common membership of the BRICS forum of the major emerging economies, suggests Lynd.

The South African Communist Party—a member of the ANC’s Tripartite Alliance—echoes the governing party. Although the West used sanctions to pressure the apartheid regime to dismantle its racist system, the SACP now calls sanctions ‘an evil instrument’ (Citizen, 25 February 2022).

SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande argues:  ‘The primary cause of the conflict is the United States and NATO, and not Russia. The solution to this is not sanctions upon Russia ... It’s a mediation and negotiated settlement and for NATO to agree it’s not going to move one inch further towards the Russian border’ (SABC News, 9 April 2022).

With twisted reasoning, the SACP claims that since the West fights wars in the Middle East, Russia is standing up against Western imperialism. But past policy mistakes cannot justify present crimes. An ethical response does not use past injustices to rationalize those in the present. An ethical approach condemns all injustices.

Despite claims that the West’s concern for Ukraine is racially motivated—most Ukranians are white—kith-and-kin arguments are an inadequate explanation. How do we explain the international support for the anti-apartheid struggle? Or London’s massive February 2003 demonstration against the war in Iraq? Or the 26 March Ukrainian solidarity demonstration organized by London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan? The world’s majority sees the brutal invasion of Ukraine as a struggle between David and Goliath, and it supports the valiant David against the mammoth Goliath.

In January 2020 Nzimande condemned US aggression against Iran and Iraq as ‘a violation of the two countries’ rights to national sovereignty and self-determination’ (Times Live, 6 January 2020).

Perhaps societies once colonized by maritime empires do not see that nations conquered by land empires—European nations—can also be colonized. The ANC and SACP once galvanized world-wide support for their brave struggle for their own national self-determination. They have forgotten that this right applies to all nations.


Categories: Blog, Blog Post

Good points. Of course, South Africa is not alone among African nations in its stance on the most recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. I wonder what sort of dialogue may unfold among South Africa and the others as the war drags on? Some, such as Nigeria, have condemned reports of racist acts against Africans fleeing the country, but have remained silent on the question of sovereignty and self-determination in Ukraine as Russia and China seek allies across the African continent.

Dear Allison,

thank you for an interesting post. A couple of points to add:
1. In theory, the Soviet interpretation of Lenin's "self determination" was always based on class. The struggle of a "bourgeois" nation for independence from a socialist or a progressive one was illegitimate. In practice, of course, it was up to the Soviet government to declare who was progressive and who was not. As the majority of the ANC "progressives" see the USA and NATO as the embodiment of imperialist evil, whoever is fighting against them is a friend and a "progressive", and whoever is helped by them is their "puppet". For this reason alone Ukraine cannot be in good books with them.
2. Wherever in the USSR the ANC cadres studied, they knew who pulls the strings. Moscow was THE centre, Moscow was the seat of CPSU's CC, Moscow created the rules, defined the policy and decided who would be helped, and who would not. In this sense too they feel that their loyalty has to be to Moscow, not to a rebel Soviet republic, which decided to join NATO.
3. I receive posts of an MK veterans' chat group, and the level of ignorance of international affairs I discover there is mind boggling. In this situation it should not come as a surprise that the learnt ideology substitutes for understanding and thought.