American president Joe Biden and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa met last Friday in the White House to discuss international relationships between both countries in a delicate context underlined by the war in Ukraine and its aftermath far beyond the only European continent.
While the Western states decided to condemn Russia and its president Vladimir Putin for what they did (and are still doing) in Ukraine in a conflict that has been lasting since February, things are not that simple in Africa, where many countries preferred to stay neutral for economic and strategic reasons. A few months ago, Senegalese president Macky Sall was meeting the Russian president as president of the African Union to give a sense of security to the Russian food supplies African countries are terribly relying on. If South Africa, one of the biggest economic powers of the continent, does not have the same dependence as certain African countries towards the Russian food supply, this is still a reason why the country of springboks is reluctant to condemn and criticize Russia for this war. But this is not the only reason.
History also has a part to play here. In times of apartheid, USSR was one of the only countries to support South Africa in their struggle for equality and civil rights. In the meantime, Western states were not moving a finger. USSR also backed several African countries fighting for their independence in the decolonization period. Everyone has their reasons, and it is essential to seize them: however awful and unfair for Ukrainians the war is, why should South Africa take position in a conflict that occurs thousands of kilometers away from them and that involves a country that supported them in hard times? Western states also have their part of sulfurous relationships in this complex world.