South African ambassador to Russia: BRICS will definitely expand further

  In an interview with TASS, South African Ambassador to Russia Mzuvukile Jeff Maqetuka explains which countries he thinks are most likely t...

 


In an interview with TASS, South African Ambassador to Russia Mzuvukile Jeff Maqetuka explains which countries he thinks are most likely to join BRICS next, assesses the prospects for orange and wine exports to the Russian market and talks about how global leaders see the Ukraine conflict playing out based on conversations with his Western colleagues.


- Both our countries are members of BRICS, and that implies not only political, but also economic cooperation, that's an area of partnership between South Africa and Moscow that I would like to start with. Mr. Ambassador, what will be your expectations of trade dynamics between Russia and South Africa in 2024, and what factors do you believe will be driving this partnership?


- Thank you very much, sir. My name is Mzuvukile Maqetuka, the Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa in the Russian Federation. Well, since the 30 years of the building of our diplomatic relations, there has always been a need and an urge and a commitment by both countries to develop trade between the two countries. And the reason for that is simple. We're highly-highly satisfied with the political and the diplomatic relations that we have with the Russian Federation. And the continuation of these relationships stems from the previous era of the Soviet Union, where we had, as South Africa, under the auspices of the African National Congress, dynamic relations with the whole of the states under the Soviet Union, including Russia. I want to emphasize this, because I want to contextualize that era and our relationships, because South Africa through the ANC today had relationships with all the Soviet states, and as I said, including Russia. So that is why, number one. If you recall, South Africa was the first country in the African continent in the 90s that recognized the Russian Federation. We were the first. So, one, that relationship therefore has got a historical context, and it's continuing.


So, in 2024, in relation to the expectations of trade, the expectation of diplomatic relations there is a continuation, and it has never stopped. Well, on the question of currencies, as you know the position of South Africa, within the BRICS format, we are for transactions on national currencies. That's the position of South Africa, and we are very strong on national currencies. If there are trade relations and the agreements between Russia and South Africa, we believe that it should be on national currencies, the Russian currency, the South African currency, not the one or the other. That is very, very clear from South Africa, and I think the leadership of South Africa, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, right from the beginning, she spoke of the need for the BRICS countries to develop a basket of currencies, not one currency or the other. No, we are not for one currency or the other, but basket of currencies, because all countries, especially within the BRICS format, have got their strengths and their weaknesses. Their sizes of economies are different. The natural resources that the countries within the BRICS format are endowed with, they are different. So, I believe that each and every country, irrespective of size, should be allowed to trade in the currency. We'll come to this at a later stage within the broader context, within the context of South Africa, for example, of the Agenda 2063, the roadmap for Africa, but more specifically, the African Continental Free Trade Area, which talks of trade within and between African states. We'll come to this, perhaps, at a later stage. So, yes, the expectations are that trade with Russia, between Russia and South Africa, will continue, and we are working full steam on this as a mission to contribute in the development of that trade.


- Now, as you mentioned, the importance of trade in national currencies, specifically, do you believe that within the BRICS-FEB framework, it will be possible to execute all the trade without dollar?


- Again, again, again, again, we are really not of one currency or the other. We believe that, we believe in South Africa, that if Brazil and India wants to trade in dollars, if South Africa and the UAE wants to trade with dollars, even within the BRICS format, that should be allowed. The thing is that we do not want is the dominance of one currency over the other, but it's not one or the other. So, that applies also with the dollar.


- We know that now Visa and Mastercard have withdrawn their operations from Russia, and so Russian citizens and business find it rather difficult to trade with those obstacles in place. And here we come to the implementation of the MIR payment system, the Russian payment system. Is there any work underway to adopt that kind of payment system in South Africa?


- Within the context of the African free trade area, for example, within the ambit of the African Union and South Africa being one of those members, the AFCTA, for example, is working on a payment system, the African payment system, that will conduct and advocate trade payment systems within the African context. Now, South Africa is part of that. That will also have to be considered if it is agreed that South Africa is going to use that system to trade with Russia, so it be. And how it will be synchronized with the Russian system, it would come out in the discussions. And, for example, we are aware that coming out of the Johannesburg BRICS summit, the governors, the BRICS governors, the BRICS finance ministers, there is already a task team that has been set up to look at this payment system within the BRICS countries. And the report will be presented in Kazan as to the development. So at this stage, it is premature really for any BRICS country to conclude what payment system will be used or what payment systems. South Africa might as well adopt the one that would be used in the African system to trade with partners all over. Might as well. We don't know what the outcome would be, but it is an ongoing. And as I said, the ministers, the governors, the ministers of finance of the BRICS countries have already set up a task team to look at this. So it's premature to even talk about if the MIR system will be with South Africa or will it not. It's premature. We are putting the cart before the horse.


- Another follow up on this topic will be on trade balance between Russia and South Africa. From the South African perspective, it is negative. So Russia exports more than imports. How do you believe that this could be even out? Is that even an issue? And maybe South Africa would like to export more to Russia. And if yes, then what type of goods that could be?


- The question again, I think it's wrongly framed. And when you look, for example, on the import exports, South Africa exports into Russia more in the agricultural sector, especially in perishable foods like, for example, your citrus. When you look at wines, South Africa exports into Russia more than Russia exports into South Africa. So it's not overall on the basket of trade commodities. It is not. South Africa, for example, in the mineral side, manganese, if we take manganese as an example, exports more manganese into Russia than Russia exports into South Africa. And luckily, within this trade relationship, the dominant, the biggest country that has invested in the manganese and in the manganese, ferro, alloys, and what have you, it's a Russian company. Through the Renova Group, they are the biggest. And as you know, that South Africa has the biggest manganese and the best quality manganese in the world. That's why Renova is there, through Transalloy. So, if you look at, you have to talk of certain commodities. Now, later we will come into the question of energy, oil, and gas. Russia, the biggest oil producer in the world. South Africa does not import a drop of oil from Russia. The question is why?


- Would you like to change that?


- Look, we have said, and we are saying, the ball is in the court of the two countries. Change, yes, it has to change. The biggest importer of oil in the history of South Africa, has always been one, Iran. That's why most of the refineries, the South African refineries, are designed for the sweet oil of Iran. Most of them. Right? That is number one. But today, our biggest importers, where we rely on oil, number one, it's Saudi Arabia. Number two, can you guess? It's Nigeria. Nigeria is our second biggest. Now, number three, the rest of our deficit in the production of petroleum, 30% of it comes from CTL, South Africa, through Sasol, the coal to liquid. One of the biggest in the world and one of the first in the world. The other percentage come from our nuclear power station, which is Goberge. That was built by the French about 45 years ago and it's still going strong. Not with a single, not with a single accident 45 years ago. And there are plans to expand it. So on the question of energy, yes, we are working towards changing that. And later perhaps we will talk that it is changing. If you have read, if you have read the reports of December 2023, for the refurbishment of our biggest refinery that is in Mosul Bay, Natref, Gazprom won the tender for the refurbishment of that. 3.7 billion rands. Two, there are other processes underway. And there would be more tenders that are going to go out for the refurbishment of other refineries. So yes, change, yes. South Africa is for change in all spheres of endeavour. Be it political, be it diplomatic relations, be it trade, it is for change. And in doing this, we are all over the world with everybody in the world. I say, I mean everybody. Everybody. Here in this same room, I meet all ambassadors in the world almost on a daily basis. Be it from the EU, be it I interact with the MFA on a daily basis. I had a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Energy in Russia towards the end of last year. And we were talking about collaboration in the energy sector and I was saying everything depends on the Russian companies. And the whole of Africa is saying that or most of African countries. If you were there during the Primakov readings at the beginning of the year, you were there. You remember what our former President Thabo Mbeki said? He mentioned specifically and he said, and I quote, Russia, Russian businessmen, because that was the theme on energy. Yes. Africa. And he was talking on behalf of Africa and South Africa in particular. In the building of infrastructure, infrastructure in energy. And he says the opportunities for Russian business people to invest in Africa, which includes South Africa, are huge. For example, in the energy field, one of the biggest opportunity, one of the biggest opportunity for Russian businesses, for example, like RusHydro. It lies in the Inga hydro scheme in the Republic of Congo. Presently, Unigreen, Russian company, are you aware of Unigreen? Unigreen is in South Africa as we talk. That is now in renewables, solar energy. We are talking to RusHydro in terms of, and this is what I was saying to the deputy minister of trade. I was saying RusHydro has the book project of South Africa, for example, in, in hydro power. RusHydro, the ball is in RusHydro's court. Okay. But it's almost two years now from 2021, RusHydro is tethering to exploit that opportunity. We are still in touch with RusHydro up till today in relation to this. Yes, change in the energy sector, in the infrastructure within the energy sector is going on. And the mission is an integral part of that. That is why in the Gazprom deal, we are the ones who invited Gazprom to participate in the tender processes because Gazprom, through Gazprom Bank, was one of the Russian majors that participated in January last year in the tender process, request for tender. There is another process that is going to be underway where another, but the point is, business moves fast. Business does not have time for long bureaucracies. Business needs short term decision making.


- And from what you said, as far as I understood, there's a perspective to explore energy cooperation in the area of oil, for instance. So it is possible that in the coming years, we'll see South Africa making its oil imports more diverse also by the means of oil import from Russia. Is that correct?


- From anybody in the world, including Russia. Of course.


- And that is currently on the table?


- It is ongoing within the framework of bilateral trade between Russia. It has never stopped.


- And is there a specific project on the table that would allow for oil import?


- PetroSA, the biggest South African oil and gas state owned. And PetroSA is in touch with all the majors in Russia. Gazprom is the biggest one. We are in touch with Tafneft, for example, in Tatarstan, in Kazan for that opportunity. You know why Tafneft? It is because the quality of oil from Tatarstan, it's within the belt of Iran. The quality of oil that is being extracted in Tatarstan, it's very, very much ideal for South African refineries. And we have been in touch for almost a year now with Tatarstan. One, as a government, but also two, with Tafneft. But we haven't made breakthroughs with Tafneft. No. Because they have not been responding as fast as we would have hoped. That's number one. But also two, through certain agencies in Kazan, in Tatarstan, who are facilitating this. But it has not been. The sense that we are getting is that Tafneft is not aware of the opportunities. But organizations like Gazprom, organizations like Tafneft, for example, which is the other one, we've got about 20 Russian oil and gas companies that we are in touch with as an embassy. And invitations always flow. Always flow between us and in relation to this. One of the projects that we are expecting in the next coming few months, there is going to be another energy conference in South Africa called Energy Mix. We're expecting that all the energy companies, be it in renewable, be it in fossil fuels, be it in hydro, they will be invited to participate in that conference. We don't yet have the date. It's organized by our Ministry of Energy in partnership with PetroSA. So that will be another project that will be in the pipeline. And Russian companies will be invited to participate. The same is with the EU companies, with Chinese companies, everybody.


- But if you get a positive feedback from Russian oil companies, Tafneft for instance, it is highly likely that we'll see Russian oil flowing to South African refineries?


- Inshallah, if they respond and if they meet the tender requirements and the processes.


- But you are interested in this?


- It's an open thing. It's based on our trade. It's not a question whether we are interested in it or not. Because the bottom line is that, as I said at the beginning, the continuation and the further development of trade between the two countries, it's an open, ongoing thing recognized by South Africa and the Russian Federation. That is why, for example, if I can go back again now to agriculture, and especially two primary products within agriculture, there is a growth. Although the overall trade balance between South Africa and Russia, there's nothing to write home about. There's nothing if you look at the figures. It's nothing. So is it with the African continent overall. If you look at the trade book and the trade balance, Russia’s trades with Africa is about 2%. When you compare it with other regions, if you compare it with China, if you compare it with the EU, but if you come back to South Africa, we have got a 435 billion US dollar trade with the EU. And the Chinese presently are our biggest trading partner, followed by the US, then the EU number three. Can you guess who's number four? It's Africa. It's the African continent. You see, they are our biggest trading partners and the numbers are huge. The numbers are huge. And our mission as an embassy is to increase that trade relations with Russia. And I'm very satisfied. I'm very satisfied in the three years that I've been here. I'm very satisfied within agriculture, as I said, on two particular products. One is within the fruit basket. I'm talking about fresh fruits.


It's in citrus, because we are huge, in oranges, in mandarins, in lemons, we are huge. Within the Russian market, we are number three in terms of imports. For every orange that you see in any supermarket in Russia, chances are that out of the ten oranges that are there, at this point in time, which is still winter, seven of those oranges are from South Africa. There are three main competitors for us. The number one in citrus is Turkey, which is just next door to Russia. Number two, it's Egypt. Number three is in South Africa. But in winter, we don't have competition. We don't have competition. We can easily have 80-90% of the market share, and it is growing. I just got a report, you saw the report from the CGW, Citrus Growers of Southern Africa. The exports of citrus from South Africa, or from Southern Africa, the plans are to increase them in the next coming three years with 25%, because we are building more plantations. Look, and it's simple. The weather favors us for the growing of citrus, and we compete with our competitors in Europe on the seasons, because fruits are about seasons, right? It's winter in Egypt in December. It's summer in South Africa. So, our exports. The number two other product that we are doing well in the Russian market, it's in wines. It's in wines. I think we are number six in the imports of wines in the Russian market.


- Do you have plans to expand in the Russian market?


All the way, all the way, all the way, all the way as we speak. All the way. And you know why? It is because in the Russia-South Africa trade relationships, there are about seven areas under the business councils. The Russian Business Council and the South African Business Council. But I can tell you the most active sub-committee of that council, it's the Agriculture and Food Sub-Council, which is led by Mikhail Fatiyev, who understands South African agriculture. Our biggest importer, the guys who bring the fruits into Russia, it's Baltic Ships in St. Petersburg. They are the biggest importers. And the advantage for us is the owner of Baltic ships is an honorary council of South Africa for the past 11 or 12 years, Vladimir Borisenko. The second biggest wine importer in the Russian Federation, Marine Express Wines in St. Petersburg, Andrei Kuzmin. The second biggest is South Africa's prime importer of South African wines. As we speak now, I think two days ago, his chief sommelier was in South Africa with 10 Russian wine and spirit importers. And Russian distributors, 10. I think they came yesterday. What did they went there for? To look at that South African wines and they were talking to estates. And Yuri, the chief sommelier of Marine Express Wines, his certification in wines, it's a South African certificate. He did a course for three years. There is nobody in this embassy who understands South African wines more than Yuri. They are busy now expanding in Yekaterinburg. They are busy now expanding. And there is another team from Yekaterinburg by a Yekaterinburg sommelier who will be going to South Africa to look at wines. Why? It is because there's going to be a 900 square meter restaurant that is going to be launched, opened in Yekaterinburg. And we have positioned ourselves that in that restaurant, South African wines will definitely be there. So, it's fruits, it's wines. We are doing very well in those.


- Now, I would also like to ask you about another sort of commodity that Russia could import from South Africa. And previously negotiations were undergoing regarding the import of animals from South Africa. Animals considered exotic in Russia, such as hippos, giraffes, zebras and rhinos. Were any agreements reached in this regard?


- It's ongoing. It's been a very long process between the two departments of agriculture. Something that they have been working on. That has been ongoing. And to be fair to your question, that's one area that I am not sure where it is. Where I'm not sure where it is in relation to animals. That's how I can respond to that one. I see.


- Russia and South Africa are also rather far apart geographically, purely geographically. And one thing that has been underway for a while is direct aerial communication between our countries. So, direct flights. They have been under discussion, and if you could give an update on how this is going, and whether that is a case solved already.


- It's not solved, my brother. It's not solved. It's an ongoing process. Towards the end of last year, at the Valdai Club. At the Valdai Club, yes. It was mid last year, because it was before the summit. The summit was in July. Ambassador Oleg Ozerov made a very bold statement. That the direct flight between South Africa and Russia will take place before the summit. I said, wow. I said, wow. Bold statement. We've been in touch. We've been in touch, TASS. And I think it will be important for you to interview Ambassador Oleg Ozerov. As to where the process of this direct flight is. First, when this process started in 2020, even before I came. Because I came in 2021. I found the process already under discussion. And by then, we had received the notables that the Russian government has decided that the carrier that will do these flights is Aeroflot. Okay? Cool. Towards the beginning of 2022. No, it's no more Aeroflot. It's going to be Nordwind. We said, who is this Nordwind? We have never heard of this Nordwind. We checked who Nordwind is. But we said, fine. There were supposed to be four flights a week. We said, wow. Now things are going to start moving. It was going to be Moscow - Johannesburg. Moscow - Cape Town. Prime destinations. Four times a week? We said, wow. It will be easy for us now to travel to South Africa. Even when there are emergencies. Because it's a nightmare to travel now. Because we've got to go through the Middle East. 14 hours all in all. It's a torture. And you can imagine for tourism what it does. It slows down. So it was Nordwind. Yes, Nordwind. Yes, Nordwind. It's quiet now. We don't know. I don't know where the process is presently. But maybe the transport ministry in Russia would know better where the process is.


- But where does the issue lie? Is it some technical issues? Is it because of the sanctions?


- We don't know. We don't know. Because remember these processes. The last meeting of Valdai, that was addressed by Ozerov. It was already during time of sanctions. We don't know. But as for the last update, it was Nordwind and it was still four times a week.


- So as for the last update from the Russian side, when it was under discussion, it was about the Nordwind company and it was supposed to be four flights a week. And that is what we’re still at now?


- That's what we are at now. We are expecting to hear when will it start and whether it will still be Nordwind. We don't know. There's been no communication. That is on the issue of direct flights.


- Let's discuss the BRICS and, for instance, the probable outcomes for the Kazan summit. As we are heading towards it, do you believe that South Africa might support further BRICS expansion at the Kazan summit?


- The question of the BRICS expansion, support or no support, it's already a given. It's already given. Coming back from when we took over from China's chairship. Because the question of expansion, if you recall, started during China's. And it's China, really, who spearheaded the question of expansion of BRICS. And, of course, the BRICS leaders accepted the need for expansion. And we, as South Africa, accepted the expansion of BRICS. There was no doubt about it. And when we took over the chairship of BRICS, our prime focus was on expansion. We spent about 90% of our time on BRICS spearheading, coordinating expansion. And what was the issue with expansion? When we took over chairship of BRICS, there was no model. BRICS had no model or a mechanism for acceptance of new members. Because the last member of BRICS that joined BRICS was in 2010. And it was the Republic of South Africa. And South Africa didn't apply. South Africa was invited. That was the spirit in 2010. But in 2023, it could not be. Because BRICS had developed its own ways of operation. Number one, hence the need, therefore, to create a framework. How are you going to evaluate country A? What would be the criteria to say country A qualifies? Those were the questions that South Africa put in the last summit that was in Beijing. To say, no, no, no. Let's slow down on this expansion until that framework and that the incoming chair must work on this. So that is why during our chairship in 2023, we were bogged down with expansion. That is why in August 20, 2023, at the Johannesburg Summit, 15th Johannesburg Summit of BRICS, a decision was taken. One, the framework was adopted. And countries were announced based on the framework, the criteria, the worldview. That is Saudi Arabia. That is Egypt. That is the UAE. Iran. Ethiopia. Argentina. Argentina. Argentina... Those were the six countries. That is why presently all those countries are participating in the BRICS meetings, except Argentina. Now, as you know, the processes of BRICS that were also adopted presently, although from a BRICS criteria model, those countries, but they have to be endorsed by summit. That will be in Kazan. So it will now be in October where those countries will be full members of BRICS with full voting rights and what blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But as you know, I said the sixth one. Argentina. Argentina has withdrawn. It's official.


It has been accepted that Argentina, because the government of Argentina has pulled out of BRICS. The fifth country, Saudi Arabia. Okay, let me say, the four countries, they have accepted membership. Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran. They have already accepted. They are ready now to sign off. Saudi Arabia is still going through its own processes. One, as a nation state. Two, together with the BRICS shepherds. But as we speak now, unless it happens last night, Saudi Arabia is not yet, has not yet endorsed. We will see it as we move towards Kazan. As South Africa, we are ready. We are in touch with the Rais office. The shepherds are in touch. We are ready for participation in South Africa. In BRICS, we will hand over the chairship in Kazan to the Russian Federation as from September, and the full program then for implementation of after the summit, the chairship will fully fall into Russian hands. I know that on what, just before the end of the month, there will be activity in your building here. Where we will be handing over the flag. Is it still going to be at TASS? Or has it changed? It hasn't changed as far as I know. Within the sport area of cooperation, there's this, what do we call it? Where the outgoing country for sports activity hands over to the new chair, the flag. It's almost a, it's a, it's a copycat of the Olympic Games and the flame. It's a symbolic thing. So I'll be handing over the flag, the South African flag to the Russian Federation, Minister of Sport. It's going to be a task. As I say, it's not a core business issue as we are concerned, but there's an activity that's going to be there, at TASS. Have I answered your question?


- So will South Africa support the possible further expansion? Because we know that many countries worldwide are very much interested in joining BRICS. There have been a number of applications, over 20, as far as I remember, sent towards BRICS. And if there are any likely candidates?


- There will be candidates. It goes without saying. And the question of expansion is still is still, is still going to be with us in BRICS for the foreseeable future. And I think who will be the next chair after Russia? It will be Brazil. Brazil will still be dealing with this issue until such time that the leaders decide that let's pause. But in Kazan, it goes without saying there will be new members who would be. And the reasons are simple. If you count the numbers, there were all in all close to about 25 all in all who indicated that they are ready to join BRICS. Now, I'm careful with the language. I didn't want to use the word applied because in being a member of BRICS, there are two processes. Process number one, you can indicate that you intend to join. Process number two, you can apply directly to say, I want to join. Now, 25 countries and by the 15th summit, six countries out of the 25, right, were nominated. Now, only, I think, 12 countries were considered out of the 23. So you still have about, say, 11 countries that are still waiting. What is our fate? So in Kazan, what is going to happen? There will be an announcement of new members, especially from that block that have already applied. Countries like Algeria, countries like Belarus, Pakistan, and a host of others, a lot, right? So there will be expansion in Kazan and but still, there's no way that all the 11 or 12 or 10 remaining countries will be accepted. No, it will have to be a gradual.


- Can you evaluate the possible number?


- No, it's very difficult. Nobody can tell. Nobody can tell. I don't even think Ryabkov or Suklal, the Sherpas, I don't even think they can tell. Because again, remember that the process is, one, it's the Sherpas that compile and the Sherpas have got to present to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. And the Ministers of Foreign Affairs have got, at the end of the day, it's the leaders who decide. So I wouldn't even venture to talk about that. No, I don't have a clue and I don't think there's anybody, I don't even think Putin has got a clue. No, no, no. No, no, no. If you go to Naledi Pandor now and ask her that question or you go to Lavrov, they are not going to answer that question. What will they be basing themselves on?


- By the way, do you think that President Ramaphosa will be there in Kazan in 2024?


- Of course. Of course, Ramaphosa will be there. Ramaphosa will be there, there's no doubt about it.


- But at the same time, as we remember, President Putin did not make it to the summit in Johannesburg. Yes. And it was probably due to...


- Not probably, it was because... It was because of the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Putin. And is there any sort of legislative process in South Africa to find ways to overcome that very specific, very specific particular responsibility in regard to the arrest warrant to President Putin? South African legislation, South African legislation.


We will never change our legislation for the purpose of one individual. I think it's important for us to understand that. And I'm saying this, you will remember towards August 2023, South Africa issued an official statement that says, number one, we understand our responsibilities towards being a member of the ICC. We understand it fully as South Africa. And there's no confusions about that. And there should be no confusions about that. We are a signatory to the Rome Statutes. And the chances of South Africa leaving the Rome Statutes are very slim, unless really there is something big that develops. But presently, it's not in the equation. That is number one. We understand our commitments and responsibilities as a member of the Rome Statutes. That is number one. Number two, and we said in relation to President Putin's indictment by the ICC, of whom we are a member, we will discuss this matter with stakeholders. One, with Russia. Two, with the ICC in terms of the process. And that happened. That is why on the sidelines of the African Peace Initiative in St. Petersburg, and on the sidelines of the Africa-Russia Summit in St. Petersburg, South Africa interacted with Russia on this issue, and it was amicably agreed between the two presidents that President Putin is not going to South Africa. It was agreed between the two presidents, so it was responding to the two things, we shall interact with the stakeholders on this matter. But for South Africa to change its legislative processes, remember South Africa is a democracy, and it's a very vibrant and rigorous democracy, where ratification of laws is done through processes, and it's rigorous processes. Remember, there are no decrees in South Africa. President Ramaphosa does not have a decree. All our legislation, they've got processes, and they've got to go through Parliament. And before even they reach Parliament, they would have gone processes that you can't believe. That is why even on the question of currencies and what have you, it's a long process. It will be a long process. You are going to see it, what the outcome of the BRICS task team on that is going to be. What the outcome of the BRICS task team on that is going to be. And the South African team in that task team, they know it, you see, because the Reserve Bank, it's an independent institution from the Ministry of Finance. Ministry of Finance might be comfortable with this and this and this. The Reserve Bank, the governor will say, no, no, no, no, no. It's not going to work that way. Now, that's one challenge. The second challenge is going to be, it's got to be ratified by Parliament. And I'm telling you, in that Parliament, there's no dictator of one individual party by the other. Now, so that's the nature of our democracy and we love it. We love it. I would be worried the day South Africa give a president decree power, I will be worried then that would be the death of our democracy. Where a president, Ramaphosa, can be given powers to decide on behalf of the country against all the processes, let alone our constitution, we will not allow that. Our constitution and if there is one thing with South Africans over the past 30 years since 1994, South Africans amending their constitution, any party that brings that up, oh, it must be very, very compelling reasons. That is why since 1998, when the constitution was adopted, 98, 99, we've never even amended a single clause of the constitution, have we? No, we have not. It's a process. It's a challenge. So even in relation to this, that's where it falls.


- So as long as South Africa is a member of the ICC, it is not likely, or it is better to say impossible, that the Russian president will come to South Africa?


- Such are the circumstances. Yes, such are the circumstances. It's correct to say that


- The last meeting of the API nation leaders was in St. Petersburg. Can we expect a new one in 2024?


- There are no specific dates. Expectations, or let me say, not even expectations, if you follow the processes of the API, the processes that have followed since St. Petersburg dictates that there be another round. And this round has to start in Kiev, where it started, by the way. Oh yes, oh yes, it has to start in Kiev. Why am I saying this? It's because the five leaders started in Kiev and met with President Zelensky and tabled the eleven elements. Did you see the document? It's up there. You didn't do your research for this interview. The reports were there from the website of Kremlin. Three days, a week, let me say, after the summit were the discussions, the presentation of the eleven elements, why the African leaders decided to be involved in an attempt to resolve the war between Russia and the Ukraine. That was clear. Fortunately for me, or unfortunately, I attended all those sessions, even in the meetings between President Putin and President Ramaphosa and the rest of the African leaders. I didn't go to Kiev because my counterpart, my ambassador, because we have had an embassy in Kiev since February 24. We've never closed that embassy, right? We've got a new ambassador there now, very experienced, a diplomat, very honorable diplomat who is in Kiev now. So we've always been there. I think we are only two African countries that are present in Kiev. It's South Africa and the DRC, I think, not sure. So the meeting started in Kiev with President Zelensky. And the African leaders presented the seven elements. We call it elements, we don't call it plans. Who are we as Africa to decide on a plan for that resolution? We believe, and we as South Africa are very strong in that. The plans will have to come between President Putin and President Zelensky on how to resolve this. The leaders made it very clear. And my president, as the spokesperson of the group, not the leader of the group as it is sometimes. South Africa is not the leader of that group, there's no leader there. Because we are talking of herds of state here and herds of government. And any can take his or her own decision, it's a multilateral issue. Under the auspices of the EU, of course, as later it came. They had gone to Kiev and St. Petersburg to listen. That was the message, we have come to listen. What are the issues here? What is this war between you that cannot be resolved through negotiations? Because, number one, we hate wars as South Africa. We do not support wars, that is number one. And number two, we believe in the amicable, through a negotiated process, any conflict, any wars that might arise. That's what we believe in as South Africa. And I have to say, in that API, that was the message. And that message was articulated very much so by the president of Zambia. And the president of Egypt, who was represented by his foreign minister. They were very clear on that. That is why, out of all the 11 elements that were tabled by President Ramaphosa on behalf of the group, I think it's element 10 that says, we call on you two leaders to resolve this process through a negotiated ground table. That was 10, I think. Right? Now, out of all the other elements, both two presidents agreed that we support what the African leaders are saying. All of them. Putin, Zelensky. But the Russian president raised an issue with negotiations. And he said, my hands are tied in relation to this. These negotiations could have taken place in March 2022 at the Istanbul conference. Now, what happened at the Istanbul conference? Do you remember what happened at the Istanbul conference? I'm not going to go into that if you understand it. President Putin says, and he took a document. And in that conference, I was seated here. Minister Lavrov, I was seated here. And I enjoyed myself. And it was President Putin. Because on my right was my minister and my president. And I enjoyed myself there. My children at home said, wow, daddy, you're seated next to President Putin. I said, I can actually hear him breathing and what have you. Right in the eyes. But what President Putin said, now he's addressing the African leaders. All of these other issues, the release of political prisoners, the risk of prisoners of war, the release of children. We will implement those things. On the question of negotiations, he said, Russia has never, ever said that they will not negotiate. But here is the problem. This document is about a discussion that had taken place between the most senior officials of Ukraine and Russia. And they reached an agreement which was initialized. And this agreement was waiting only for the ratification of the two presidents. But during that process, President Zelensky reneged. And he introduced a law that forbids him from negotiating with President Putin. He decreed a law. Now, he was pushing that to the African leaders. Now, as a result of that, I said to my minister, look, this is a simple question. It's a rhetorical question as far as I'm concerned. Because now, it will be up to Kiev to respond to the African leaders as to how they are going to resolve that problem. It's up to Kiev. And I was saying, look, in this region, the decree powers were oppressed. Because Zelensky can decide now, through a decree, abolish it and amend it so that it can pave way. But because the peace initiative seeks to assist in the resolution of that problem, therefore, I am expecting that the next round, when it takes place, it will start again in Kiev. Because the African leaders have got to go and report to President Zelensky what transpired in St. Petersburg. And then, of course, come back from Kiev to say to Putin, look, there are no issues anymore. Zelensky says this. And our hope is that Zelensky would say, I am ready to negotiate. Because that would be the most honorable thing. And then, we see how it transpired from there. Our challenge is South Africa. For that, I don't believe that such a meeting will take place before August 2024. Why am I saying that? Because of potential elections. Elections. Because very, very soon, our cabinet is going to be dissolved. Right? And what does that mean in the South African context? Once cabinet is dissolved, because parliament is dissolved. And the president is not allowed to travel out of the country. During that time. Because in brackets, there is no more president. And we are expecting the elections to be between May and August. Yes, August. But the date is not yet out. Have I answered your question? Yes. So, as African leaders come to Kiev for a discussion on this initiative, the key issue that will be raised is the decree of President Zelensky on negotiations with Putin. And so, they will try to use their influence to maybe try and demonstrate President Zelensky. And the only way out is to abolish that decree. I think so. To me, that's the most logical thing. And sensible thing to do. So, there is still no road map, but it is likely that it will happen after the elections. It will happen after the elections. It will happen after the elections, unless things change between now. One, Russia has got elections. We don't know what the outcome of the elections are going to be. We can speculate, but we don't know what the elections are going to be. By August, there would have been elections in America. And we don't know what influence the new administration in America would exert on Zelensky. Three, there might be other influences on Zelensky himself, coming from those countries. But our sense as an embassy now, and in my interaction with some of the members of the EU, I'm talking about my counterparts in the EU, everybody accepts that there will have to be compromises. There will have, because there are no negotiations without compromises. And everyone accepts that the decree of Zelensky also might have to become a compromise. No, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that. But I am expecting that all parties will have to compromise, including Zelensky, including Putin, if they are serious about resolving this issue, as they indicated. If I was an advisor to President Zelensky, I would say to him, look, the ball is in your court now. And this question of negotiations with Putin hangs only now on this issue. And everything depends on you, how you resolve it. And I would say to President Zelensky, bluff Vladimir Putin. Throw the ball into his court. Change this, amend this decree. And see how he's going to respond. That's what I would say.


- Now I would like to proceed to the topic of the presidential elections. And as we expect those presidential elections to happen both in Russia and in South Africa in 2024, the question is, well, the first question is whether South Africa is willing and ready to ensure that the elections will happen in a safe environment, I mean the Russian presidential elections, will happen in a safe environment on the territory of South Africa?


- Well, in the history of South African election processes, we have not had a single issue since 1994. We are not expecting any issue even now. As for threats to any nationalities for their voting, because number one, the voting for Russian citizens will take place at the Russian embassy. That's number one. That's where safety is. And even in the last elections, there were no issues. And even now, I can assure you, we are expecting no issues. Elections in South Africa have been very, very disciplined. We have had no issues, absolutely no issues. And even on those ones, I can assure you, the safety of Russian citizens is assured. Because also the other thing... How many people are we talking about here? Do you have the figures? Yeah, but as to that assurance, I can assure you, because number one, I've played a role in elections in South Africa since 1994. Because I was a senior member of the intelligence community in South Africa. So the question of elections, safety, security issues, I've been integrally involved, personally, before I became an ambassador.


- Do you believe that the outcome of election in South Africa, by any means, could change the kind of political and economic partnership that we now have? Or will it be more or less on the same page, regardless of the outcome?


- If the outcome of the elections, the ruling party, that is the African National Congress, wins the elections, there will be no changes, that I can assure you. But if one of the opposition parties takes over, I cannot guarantee anything. That I cannot guarantee. Because number one, because of the hostility of some of the opposition parties towards Russia and their policies. One, the main opposition party, which is the Democratic Alliance, if it can win the elections, I think the tables will change. That's the reality. Because the main opposition party is not a friend to Russia. And that is for Russia to analyse. It's not for me to analyse South African political parties for Russia. What's the name of your ambassador in Pretoria? He would be the one who would give you a better answer to that. But, if the African National Congress wins the elections, now, there will be no change in the policies. There will be no change in the relationships. But if the official opposition takes, wins the elections, there will be changes in South Africa's foreign policy stance. Chances are that, if that happens, South Africa will be pulled out of BRICS. Like Argentina, it will be an Argentinian thing. That's what would happen. It is because a number of opposition parties in South Africa are not friends to Russia. That's the bottom line. But if I say that analysis, because I cannot make an analysis of political parties in South Africa to Russia. Rogachev is your ambassador in South Africa. Rogachev, it's Rogachev's responsibility. Mine is to make an analysis of the Russian elections and possible outcomes. That's why I attended the briefing by the Central Election Committee about a week or two ago. It was not a nice meeting to be. It was not a nice meeting to be. The G7 countries were in a fighting mood. Fighting mood. The chairperson, the chairlady of the CEC had to answer very, very hard questions that came from the G7 countries. But it was not a nice briefing. Could have been better. Again, again, unfortunately, the issue was the war on Ukraine. Now, if there is another briefing, as we had been promised, it's going to be worse. You know why? If the CEC can call another briefing now, the key theme is going to be the death of Alexei Navalny. It will be nasty because they will take the same position, if not the worst position. So, that will be up to the CEC, how they will respond, if they will have to respond. But I can tell you, the G7 countries, I'm sure they are now waiting for the CEC to call because we were promised that there will be another briefing.


- By the way, does South Africa believe that the death of Alexei Navalny is an internal thing that the Russian government has to solve on its own.


- Fully supportive, I understand that. And that's my position. And I said to them, even before that statement would have been made, I said to them, this is an internal matter, which when TASS raised it in the interview, it's an internal matter. We will wait as an embassy to hear what the official report would be from the Kremlin. It's an internal matter. And I'm told that China has issued a similar statement, that they are not going to talk about it because it's an internal matter, which Russia will have to resolve internally. That's my position. And if my minister or my president can ask me now, what's your position, I will say the same thing. Step aside, Mr. President, it's an internal matter. Now, if you would ask me what's my opinion, I will say to you there's no personal opinion on this issue. I'll be guided by the position of my country as a diplomat. That's my position on it.


- Do you expect that Russian observers will be invited to South Africa?


- Again, that one, it's a prerogative of our independent electoral commission, which is a completely independent institution from government. That again is the nature of the democracy in South Africa. Whom they invite and not invite, government does not get involved because they have got a set of their own criteria. Whom they invite and whom do they not invite. That's number one. But we are aware that there are some African organizations that have been invited by the Russian Central Electoral Commission. They are. Okay. And those organizations, I know, they have already responded. The response is positive. But again, you know, the trajectory and the position of South Africa in terms of these things, we take these things as internal matters. The question of the organization of elections, it's a Russian matter again. But yes, the diplomatic community was invited by the CEC on the briefing. That was fair enough. So we interacted at that level. But to be invited or not to be invited, it's not a big issue to us.


- And as Russia has a pretty developed electronic governance, for example…


- I've seen that question. Our chairman of our IEC was here about a year ago, 2021, with a team of his ICT guys to look at the electronic systems that were developed in Russia about... It was 2021 when Ulandu, this team was here, the present chairman, to look at those systems. And the electronic systems for elections are not a new thing in South Africa. They are not a new thing in South Africa. It has been an evolution how South Africa developed its electronic platforms. And as I say, the chairman was here in Russia. And I can bet you he went to DC. And I can bet you he went to London. And I can bet you he went to Paris. But he was here in Russia. Well, we wouldn't know what his reports were and what his view was. But it has been developed. For example, registration electronically has long started in South Africa. That is why today, do you know that it's going to be the first elections where the South African diaspora is allowed to vote in elections? We were not voting because we didn't have an electronic system. But we are going to vote today. And the South African community in Russia is going to vote here at the embassy. So the electronic, it's not a new thing. It's not a new thing.


- And I think we have moved to the last question. Which is, does South Africa consider hosting the next Russia-Africa summit?


- On that one, here is the position of South Africa. Here is the position. The question of hosting or not hosting an African summit is not a decision of South Africa. Right? That's number one. We will be invited by the African Union. So that's why Russia will have to raise that matter with Addis Ababa. Because it is an African-Russian summit. It's not a bilateral issue. It's a multilateral issue. So we cannot invite ourselves. No. It's the secretariat of the African Union through summit. And I hope Russia raised this matter. Because we are just from summit this weekend. And Ozerov was there. I hope he had raised this thing. Not with South Africa. But with the secretariat of the commission. And then it's the secretariat of the commission that is going to decide where the summit should be held. South Africa might say, let the summit be at the AU headquarters. Or AU might say, let the summit be in Rwanda or in Botswana. Any country that will be capable to host such an event. And Ethiopia can. Because it's the headquarters of the AU. It's got the infrastructure. Burundi won't. Eswatini won't. Because they are small countries with no capacity to host. No.


- I guess now we are at the point where I'd like to ask you whether there are some points that you would like to highlight in particular, but we have not touched the point throughout the interview.


- The message that I would send especially to the Russian business community is... South Africa is ready to work with Russia on matters of trade. And I can assure, I can speak on behalf of SADC. The Southern African Development Corporation. Africa is ready. As former President Mbeki and President Museveni during the Primakov readings said, Africa is ready. Russia must understand the developments in the continent. Russia must understand that Africa has got a roadmap for its development which is Agenda 2063. And the African Free Trade Area Agreement. That's our roadmap for development. That's the message. It would be to the business community of Russia.


Interviewed by Pavel Tsukanov


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Local Glob: South African ambassador to Russia: BRICS will definitely expand further
South African ambassador to Russia: BRICS will definitely expand further
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