Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda
President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed an interministerial committee (IMC) to consider options regarding the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to attend the Brics summit here in August.
In a post-cabinet briefing in Pretoria on Friday, minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the cabinet met on Wednesday to discuss the matter, among other things She said the cabinet reaffirmed South Africa’s participation in the ICC and confirmed the country remains a signatory to the Rome Statute. As a member of the court in The Hague, the country is obliged to comply with the warrant.
“South Africa will continue to advocate for the strengthening of institutes of global governance and we continue to campaign for equal and consistent application of international law.
“The president appointed an interministerial committee that is chaired by deputy president, Paul Mashatile, that is considering various options on the matter of the ICC as it relates to the visit of some of our guests during the Brics Summit,” she said.
On Thursday, Western Cape premier Alan Winde lambasted Ramaphosa for inviting Putin to the summit despite a warrant for his arrest being issued. Winde said if the Russian leader sets foot in the Western Cape, the provincial government will have him arrested by Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP) officers.
The government and the ruling ANC this week contradicted one another in what appeared to be a communication blunder in imparting the party’s national executive committee meeting (NEC) outcome on the matter.
The ANC and its president, Ramaphosa, who initially said South Africa was pulling out of the court, have done an about-turn on the country’s withdrawal therefrom.
ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula on Tuesday contradicted Ramaphosa on South Africa’s position regarding withdrawal of its court membership.
During a joint press briefing after a state visit by Finland’s president, Sauli Väinämö Niinistö, at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Tuesday, Ramaphosa said the country was pulling out because of “unfair treatment” by the ICC.
“The governing party, the ANC, has taken the decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC largely because of the manner in which the ICC has been seen to be dealing with these types of problems,” said Ramaphosa.
However, Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya later said the country will remain a signatory to the court.
“This clarification follows an error in a comment made during a media briefing held by the ANC on South Africa’s status with regard to the ICC. Regrettably, the president erroneously affirmed a similar position during a media session today,” he said.
There is no misinformation. The governing party has clarified itself and its position Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni
South Africa remained a signatory to the ICC in line with the ANC’s 55th national conference to rescind an earlier decision to withdraw from the court, he added.
Ntshavheni said at the joint media engagement with the Finnish president, a journalist asked Ramaphosa a question relating to governing party decisions, as communicated by the secretary-general.
“The president spoke of the decision of the governing party and on that same day the governing party clarified decisions of its own meetings and the various options that they are considering.
“If you check on the options that the governing party related to one of those — that which was communicated by the president — there is no misinformation. The governing party has clarified itself and its position.”
On Winde’s statement, Ntshavheni said: “The Western Cape is part of South Africa. The rules that apply in the Western Cape are the rules of this country. The laws that apply in the Western Cape are the laws of this country and we are not running a federal government system, we are running a unitary government system.”
Ntshavheni said if Putin was in the country and protected by the presidential protection service, she did not know how Winde, “who does not have even policing functions”, would be able to effect an arrest.
“Premier Winde can dream about whatever, but what is important in the work of the IMC is to consider the various options.
“If you recall the iterations of the government of the US, [it] indicated [it is not a signatory] to the Rome Statute and therefore the ICC cannot issue a warrant of arrest on its soldiers who have violated human rights and slaughtered men, women and children in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.
“[The US] said if the ICC does that it will sanction [the court]. Equally, the Federation of the Russian Republic is not a signatory to the ICC and there are rules that the ICC must then comply with when [it issues] warrants in relation to people who are not signatories. So when you say there are no options, it is not accurate.”
The IMC, she said, has been established to consider options, including legal opinions received. “The IMC will then go to cabinet, make recommendations and cabinet will announce and communicate the decisions of cabinet.”
On special envoys sent to the US, she said South Africa’s position is that continuous engagements must be held with all parties in the conflict.
“The US, the leader of Nato, that is part of the conflict involving Russia and the Ukraine. It’s important to engage with them because we have articulated our position of resolving the conflict or the differences peacefully and you cannot engage with Russia [only].
“Globally we have been called as a government to intervene, given our relations with Russia, to nudge Russia to go the route of peace, and we are saying we cannot nudge Russia alone, we must also nudge the other protagonists in the conflict, [which is] the US as the leader of Nato.
“It’s not because we are afraid of being removed from the [US’s] African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), it’s because we have a responsibility to ensure that there are peaceful resolutions across the world.”
South Africa has been firm on that responsibility, she said.
“We have indicated our decision to be non-aligned on this matter. It’s not because we support the war taking place in the Ukraine. We are saying there must be peaceful reconciliation and all parties must come to the table, including the US, as the head of Nato.”
The government will articulate other measures it’s taking to drive peaceful negotiations.
On whether Ramaphosa spoke to Namibian president Hage Geingob about the ICC during his recent state visit to South Africa, Ntshavheni said she did not know. Geingob also addressed the ANC NEC meeting.
On whether South Africa is considering taking a bill to parliament that will give Putin immunity, she said she did not want to pre-empt the work of the IMC as it seeks to protect the country’s sovereignty.
This is not the first time South Africa has been in this position regarding a sitting president. In 2015 the ICC issued a warrant of arrest for then Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. South Africa did not comply with the order.