The visit this week by deputy president of the country David Mabuza to the Russian Federation could not have happened at a better time. Mabuza, a strong personal ally of Russia who has a personal history of flying in and out of Moscow for, among others, medical consultation, was appointed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Special Envoy to Russia this week.
There, he was to meet with the Russian president Vladir Putin in order to convey President Ramaphosa’s personal message of congratulation following his success in the March 2018 elections and subsequent inauguration on May 7, 2018.
In a statement from the Presidency, the following was further stated: “President Ramaphosa looks forward to further strengthening the already existing political, economic and trade ties between South Africa and Russia.”
Indeed, SA’s deep historical ties to Russia goes back to the dark days of apartheid when Russia trained members of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe and provided them with arms to wage their battle to end apartheid. Russia was one of the few countries in the world which treated the ANC and SA Communist Party leaders like royalty.
When ANC leaders JB Marks and Moses Kotane took ill in the camps in Africa they were flown with the assistance of Russians to Moscow to receive medical treatment. And when the two liberation icons died on the Russian soil they were given hero’s burials and their graves declared sacred.
Fast-forward, when the ANC government requested the Russians to exhume the remains of both Kotane and Marks so that they could be -reburied on their home soil in the North West province, again the Russians obliged like true allies. Such is the strong ties that bind the two countries that after the exhumation of the two ANC leaders, the Russians vowed to keep the two empty graves as heritage sites.
Today, scores of young South Africans are studying in Russia on scholarships. They feel at home at once when they visit the grave sites of their liberators who were well looked after by the Russians.
This is the kind of history that if unknown will leave many baffled by the strong bond between Pretoria and Moscow. Russia was also an active supporter for South Africa to be accepted into a powerful group of growing economies better known BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). The group’s acronym had the letter “S” added in the end to read BRICS after South Africa joined.
Now, from the 25th -27th July 2018, President Ramaphosa will be hosting President Putin, a proven friend of South Africa, along with the Heads of State of China, India and Brazil for a scheduled BRICS Summit.
These kinds of networks with like-minded fellow travellers are quite important in power relations with the complex international world order. South Africa and indeed the rest of the BRICS members have conscious obligations to continue to build strong political and socio-economic ties so that they can leverage from each other’s prosperity and the know-how.
BRICS as a power bloc stand a good chance of tackling challenges posed by multilateralism within the framework of global relations. In BRICS the lesser economies are able to benefit from the developed ones such as Russia and China, the only two BRICS members who are permanent members of the UN Security Council and who also possess the veto powers.
This is an example of the benefits of BRICS over and above SA-Russia bilateral relations.
In this rapidly changing world order where more powerful countries flex their muscles willy-nilly against their weaker counter-parts, South Africa does very well to keep and nurture old friendships such as our relations with Moscow, a proven and dependable ally.