Opinion article by Sanet Madonsela, PhD Candidate in the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies, University of the Free State
On the 24th of February 2022, the world woke up to the news of Russia announcing its’ “special military operation” to “demilitarise” and “deNazify” Ukraine. This announcement was followed by a sophisticated, all-out attack by land and air. As Russia began its invasion, the rest of the world watched in anguish, contemplating the unavoidable international political and economic implications.
There are competing views as to why Russia invaded Ukraine. Some argue that the attacks were based on Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, while others link the invasion to the Minsk agreements. The Minsk agreements are two treaties signed in 2014 and 2015 aimed at ending the war in Donbas. To provide a bit of context one needs to go back to 2014.
Resolution to recognise Donetsk and Lugansk
Moscow was angered that its candidate lost Ukraine’s presidential mantle in elections in 2014. This resulted in Donetsk and Luhansk announcing their autonomy from Kiev. In September of that year, the government of Kiev and the separatist leaders agreed to a 12-point ceasefire called Minsk I. Despite the signing of the agreement, the fighting continued resulting in Russia, Ukraine and the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) signing Minsk II.
The agreement called on Ukraine to control the state border, constitutional reform and decentralisation. Despite an election held in 2018 in the eastern regions, the US and the EU have refused to recognise the legitimacy of the vote, thus, violating the agreement. The OSCE has reported significant daily increases in ceasefire violations in the affected areas since February 2014. While the US is not a signatory, it has expressed the importance of implementing the agreement. Instead of accepting the existing agreement, Ukraine allegedly never implemented its provision thereby incensing Moscow – as well as ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
On 16 February 2022, the Russian parliament adopted a resolution requesting Putin to recognise Donetsk and Lugansk. This agreement was signed on the 21st of February 2022 and was followed by a request to deploy armed forces. Inevitably the conflict dynamics have escalated.
While some believe themselves to be immune to the conflict, economists warn that it will have far-reaching global consequences as armed conflict tends to disrupt supply chains and increase the price of food and gas. They predict a further increase in oil prices per barrel as Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and the second largest exporter of crude oil. This is important as oil prices directly impact transportation, logistics, and air freights. On Thursday, 24 February, global oil prices passed $105 per barrel warranting these predictions. In addition, Russia is the world’s largest supplier of palladium, a material used by automakers for catalytic converters and to clean car exhaust fumes, a delay (in supplies) would affect auto production. It is worth noting that Ukraine is a major provider of wheat, corn, and barley. A lack of yellow maize, or even a slowdown in production, could result in an increase in meat prices.
Exports and sanctions
Combined, Russia and Ukraine export more than a third of the world’s wheat and 20% of its maize. They also account for 80% of global sunflower oil exports. They supply all major international buyers, as well as many emerging markets. In 2020, 90% of the African continent’s $4 billion agricultural imports from Russia were wheat and 6% sunflower oil. South Africa does not produce enough wheat and is heavily reliant on imports from these countries. It imported more than 30% of its wheat from these two countries over the past five years.
Western states have announced a coordinated series of sanctions aimed at Russian elites; however, critics warn that they may be ineffective as the country’s economy is large enough to absorb even the most severe sanctions. Its central bank has more than $630 billion in foreign reserves and gold. Its sovereign wealth accounts for an additional $190 billion. Russian debt accounts for a mere 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP).
The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, states that the bloc would target Russia’s energy sector by preventing European companies from providing Russia with the technology needed to upgrade its refineries. The US Department of Treasury has committed itself to preventing Russia’s state-owned Gazprom from raising money to fund its projects in the US. It is worth noting that Russia and Ukraine’s imports and exports to the US account for less than 1%, while Europe and Russia are interdependent. The EU needs Russian gas, while Russia needs the EU’s money. Some warn that the EU’s decision could be detrimental as it receives over a third of its natural gas from Russia. This is used for home heating and energy generation. These fears were intensified when the natural gas price in Europe increased by 62% on the 24th of February. It is believed that Russia has been preparing for economic isolation for years and that it could better absorb the sanctions than Europe’s ability to reduce its dependence on Russia’s oil, gas, and coal. Despite all these, Gazprom announced that its gas exports to Europe were continuing as normal.
While the world watches with bated breath as the conflict rages there are some promising signs. Russian and Ukrainian delegates are currently meeting on the border with Belarus to start a dialogue and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Israel to serve as a mediator between himself and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Let us pray that reason prevails.
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You just can’t get rid of us. Some of South Africa’s most sophisticated and knowledgeable wine tasters (and me) have got together again to try out a fine Cape White – the 2019 Bizoe Morningstar Semillon.
The man with a pan and a corkscrew and an encyclopedia knowledge of all things pleasurable (and legal), Michael Olivier, did the pouring and introduced the wine.
Guest tasters were Cape Wine Master Debi van Flymen, branding consultant Jeremy Sampson, auto expert Jeff Osborne and EY Cova partner Duane Newman.
The importance – or not – of wine vintages was also debated as we glugged our way through the bottle.
Click below to check it out:
NB: Michael Oliver’s new cookbook is a must-read and you must buy it and read it:
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Commissions of inquiry have been a feature of political life in South Africa since 1994. However, the Seriti and Zondo commissions arguably represent the most explicit evidence of the scourge of corruption in democratic South Africa.
The Seriti inquiry into the arms deal, which cost R137 million, was handed over to former President Jacob Zuma in 2016. This commission found no evidence of the 1999 arms deal corruption. However, Justice Raymond Zondo would hand over one of his three reports to President Cyril Ramaphosa in early January six years later.
Despite their similarities – their role in investigating allegations of widespread corruption and the stern rebuke that the commission heads received from certain public sections – there are several fundamental differences between them, with one predominating.
The most fundamental difference between them is that the Seriti Commission’s chairperson and commissioner were referred to the Judicial Service Commission on charges of gross misconduct.
A full panel of the Gauteng High Court found that the Seriti Commission mysteriously omitted crucial facts before concluding that there was no proof of corruption. Contrarily, the evidence presented to the Zondo Commission has already had dire consequences for several individuals, politicians, and state-owned and private companies in South Africa and abroad.
While it is still early days, and perhaps unfair to make this comparison between the two commissions, the Zondo Commission has undoubtedly removed some dark stains from the judiciary that do not augur well for democracy.
Erosion of ethical conduct
President Ramaphosa’s renewal project, underscored by a commitment to fighting corruption and strengthening governance, has gained traction over the past two years.
Nevertheless, as the Zondo report makes abundantly clear, South Africa is struggling to respond effectively to the complexities of corruption and money laundering.
As a nation still being forged, too many men and women entrusted to lead this glorious nation have abandoned the cardinal rule that ethical conduct was central to leadership. Instead, they have knowingly become corrupt conduits through their collaboration and conniving to collapse democratic institutions and practices.
No competent government will fold its hands and watch as its citizens’ livelihoods are destroyed by criminal elements within and outside its ranks, as reported by the Zondo Commission.
However, we need to credit President Ramaphosa – with all his leadership flaws – for his continued bold statement to implement the commission’s recommendations without fear or favour. We may want to dismiss this boldness as another political gimmick.
In any event, I believe that civil society organisations and liberal democratic institutions are converging, as they did in the past, to challenge attempts to circumvent the recommendations of the Zondo Commission.
A trial for President Ramaphosa
Several incidences after the release of the Zondo Commission report indicate what we can expect when the final report is released. Of note were some ANC members’ statements that seemed to differ from President Ramaphosa about the need to support the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.
Somehow, Ramaphosa will be on trial – fairly or unfairly – during the year. He will have to overcome some challenges, including the dismal performance of the ANC during the 2021 local government elections and his stance on corruption.
Yet, thus far, he has managed to shrug off threats from increasingly aggressive and confrontational elements within the ANC.
The ANC will hold its elective conference at the end of the year. Besides the multipronged, political disinformation strategies that often precede such conferences, some defenders of democracy implicated in the Zondo report may join beleaguered activists to crush opponents and settle scores.
Others, however, may take the findings against them on review. Surmounting these threats from within the ANC will depend on the extent to which the President and his supporters are willing to risk his aspiration for a second term instead of serving the long-term interests of South African citizens.
Beyond the politics
The Zondo Commission’s report will remain largely fruitless unless it goes hand in hand with political will and oversight to act on recommendations with the prima facie of wrongdoing and criminality.
Without the latter, we need to ask serious questions about Parliament, and the Executive’s ability to solve political matters often offloaded onto commissions of inquiry.
For example, while I understand the need for an independent anti-corruption agency and other measures to fight graft, we conveniently ignore how the Auditor-General’s reports detailing rampant corruption and blatant criminality (not irregular expenditure as the elite want us to believe) are ignored year after year.
What difference will these measures bring when you still have leaders and officials with malign influence on procurement procedures?
The bickering against the Zondo report and President Ramaphosa will grow louder and dominate the South African political landscape over the next few months.
We should consider the advice of former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who once noted that integrity in public spaces is indispensable.
Prof Sethulego Matebesi is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology, at the University of the Free State
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