South African President Cyril Ramaphosa made his first visit to the White House on Friday (16 September) for talks with US President Joe Biden on global security, climate change, trade, food security, health and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and South Africa’s and other African nations’ reluctance to condemn it.
Biden praised South Africa as a “vital voice” as he met with his South African counterpart at the White House for talks that touched on efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and security, despite disagreement on the war in Ukraine.
According to a senior White House official, the US president wanted to discuss the war in Ukraine with Ramaphosa, and hear the South African leader’s “thoughts on the best way forward”. Biden, who has led an international coalition in applying a slew of economic sanctions against Russia over the war, wants South Africa’s help in those efforts. But the South African government has resisted calls to directly condemn Russia for the invasion.
With its close historical ties to Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle, South Africa abstained from a United Nations vote in March denouncing the invasion of Ukraine. In May, Ramaphosa said “bystander countries” were paying the price of Western sanctions on Russia. South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, said Ramaphosa would emphasize the need for dialogue to find an end to the war. White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby earlier dismissed suggestions that the US is trying to pressure South Africa to distance itself from Russia.
According to press reports, Ramaphosa sought to work together with the USA on security, including in neighboring Mozambique, which has been grappling with an Islamist insurgency in its northern Cabo Delgado province. For South Africa, Washington had a “key” role to play in security in the continent.
Ramaphosa’s visit to Washington comes just weeks after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his own trip to South Africa, pledging Biden administration will do more to listen to Africa.