South Africa Criticized for Abstaining on UN Ukraine Resolution

People look on as Cape Town's city hall is illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in support of Ukraine following its invasion by Russia, in Cape Town, South Africa, March 2, 2022.

South Africa chose to abstain Wednesday when the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution calling on its BRICS partner, Russia, to withdraw its military forces from Ukraine. South Africa’s U.N. ambassador defended the move, but some South Africans were unhappy with the decision.

South Africa was one of 17 African nations that abstained.

In a statement, South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Mathu Joyini objected to the phrasing of the resolution, saying it “does not create an environment conducive for diplomacy, dialogue and mediation.”

Political science professor Bheki Mngomezulu said South Africa is also influenced by its historical ties to the former Soviet Union.

"There are a number of South Africans, most of whom are now in government, who trained both in Russia and Ukraine. So, they do have relations with Ukraine. And the majority of the people are of the view that the liberation struggle was supported solely by Russia in terms of these two countries, but the reality of the matter is all the countries that were part of the USSR participated in terms of assisting the liberation struggle not only in South Africa but in Africa in general," Mngomezulu said.

The main opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance, released a statement condemning the country’s stance. The party’s shadow minister for international relations Darren Bergman said the party is shocked that South Africa could abstain from such a vote.

"This was an opportune time for South Africa to take a stand and to assert itself on the international stage,” Bergman said.

He said considering how hard South Africans fought to end the racially oppressive system of apartheid and get the right to vote, and how the international community helped them win their fight, they should’ve repaid the favor.

“An abstention or voting for Russia is pretty much the same language. It’s a vote against Ukraine. It’s a vote against peace, and it’s a condonation of the violence that’s currently taking place in Ukraine,” Bergman said.

Other South Africans added their voices to the chorus of disappointment, including analyst Mngomezulu.

“Of course, it doesn’t paint the country in a positive light, more especially because part of South Africa’s foreign policy agenda is to respect human rights, and in this case it’s clear that the human rights of the Ukrainians [have] been affected,” Mngomezulu.

Ronnie Gotkin, who was out for an afternoon stroll in the summer sunshine, said he was outraged.

“I think it’s pretty appalling. It’s not taking a moral stance. I understand that in the real world there are politics and allies, but sometimes morality should trump out,” Gotkin said.

In all, 141 nations voted in favor of the resolution, five nations, including Russia, voted no, and 35 abstained.

Eritrea was the only African nation to vote with Russia.

Of the UN's 193 member states, 181 voted; 141 countries supported the resolution condemning Russia and five were against it: Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea.