/News24.com | Trying not to offend Russia is ‘deeply immoral’, Steenhuisen tells critics of Ukraine trip
News24.com | Trying not to offend Russia is ‘deeply immoral’, Steenhuisen tells critics of Ukraine trip

News24.com | Trying not to offend Russia is ‘deeply immoral’, Steenhuisen tells critics of Ukraine trip

News

  • DA leader John Steenhuisen says his much-criticised six-weeklong fact-finding mission to Ukraine, was done with poor communities across South Africa in mind.
  • He said the ANC’s political elite would not be affected by the skyrocketing food and energy prices, hence the party’s wishy-washy stance on the Russian invasion. 
  • The DA leader said his visit had made him realise there was no end in sight to the war.

DA leader John Steenhuisen says the war raging in Ukraine, is “everyone’s war” and that South Africa should not be sitting on the bench.

Briefing the media on Monday, Steenhuisen took a dig at the government, saying the position it had taken – “to avoid saying or doing anything that might offend Russia – is so deeply immoral”. 

The DA leader last week embarked on a fact-finding mission to war-torn Ukraine to witness, first-hand the situation on the ground.

He stressed that he did not understand the criticism directed at his fact-finding mission to Ukraine, as the undertaking was done with the poor and marginalised communities across South Africa in mind.  

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“When global maize and oil prices spike even further, these are the people who will suffer. And many will die if we don’t step in with a plan to shield them from hunger. That is why I get angry when I hear people say, ‘This is not our war, we needn’t involve ourselves or speak out’.”

Citing recent reports that nearly 200 children under five years old had died in the first two months, Steenhuisen said this number could grow exponentially if the war in Ukraine continued.

“These families, whose children go to bed starving every night and who have to share slices of bread or tiny amounts of watery porridge, will be our victims of the war in Ukraine.

READ | SA abstains from voting on UN General Assembly resolution demanding Russia withdraw from Ukraine

“Our ANC government speaks only for its own narrow financial interests. It does not represent the citizens of South Africa in its immoral support for Russia. They are not the ones who will send their children to bed, night after night, with no food. It’s easy to say this war is not our problem when you are cushioned from the real world by unimaginable privilege,” said the DA leader.

Steenhuisen arrived in Lviv, in western Ukraine, on 1 May. The annoucement sparked widespread criticism as South Africans took to social media platforms to ask why he had failed to undertake such missions on the African continent when wars broke out. 

There were also questions asked as to why Steenhuisen did not go on fact-finding missions in poverty-stricken parts of South Africa. 

On Monday, the DA leader defended the move, saying he had actually visited impoverished citizens in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga before leaving the country.

“And I can assure you, the lived experience of the people I met on these trips is a million miles from that of politicians urging us to not upset Russia. They will be the first to feel the effects of this war. They are the reason we cannot remain neutral and disinterested,” said Steenhuisen.

He added that what was worrying from his trip to Ukraine was the “realisation that this war is far from over”.

‘This is a global issue’

“No one knows for sure what Putin will do next. There are many theories and speculations, and analysts have painted several possible scenarios that range from an immediate withdrawal to an immediate escalation,” he said, adding:

But it is clear that we are dealing with a megalomaniac who is driven by ambitions beyond the reasonable and the rational, and now finds himself increasingly without the option of a face-saving de-escalation.

Steenhuisen added that in light of uncertainty about when the war would end, the only thing that was certain was that food and energy prices would continue to skyrocket. 

“Large parts of Ukraine’s farmland will not be planted this season. Much of the eastern part of the country, including ports, is still mined. And many Ukrainians have been drafted into the army and are unavailable to work in their sectors of the economy.”

“So even if the fighting were to stop right away, the economic devastation – and particularly the agricultural aspect – will take years to overcome. And this is not a Ukrainian or even a European issue. This is a global issue.”

Ukraine is the largest producer of sunflower oil, the third-largest producer of corn, and among the top five producers of wheat in the world. Between Russia and Ukraine, they account for nearly a third of the world’s wheat and barley exports.

News John Steenhuisen

DA leader John Steenhuisen in Kyiv in the Ukraine last week.

“Africa is particularly heavily dependent on grain from this region. Already we are seeing fast-rising prices due to restrictions on Ukrainian exports through its ports. This is going to get far worse before it gets any better. That is why this is everyone’s war,” said the DA leader.

READ | DA leader John Steenhuisen lands in Ukraine

“The people I spoke to cannot fathom how South Africa has taken the stance it has, particularly given our country’s own history at the wrong end of imperial conquest and our fight for freedom and democracy.

“The academics I met, in particular, were bewildered by South Africa’s official response. Many of them remember very clearly the support given to South African exiles in Ukraine – and by Ukrainian universities – during the liberation struggle.

“I was asked, on more than one occasion, what South Africa would expect the world to do if the same thing were to happen to us.

“And so that is my question to President Ramaphosa too: What would you expect the global community to do if South Africa was the country being bombed to pieces, and South African citizens were being slaughtered by the army of another nation?” asked Steenhuisen.

He called for Parliament to follow in his footsteps and send a multi-party delegation to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian leaders and assess the situation for themselves.

“And then once they have these facts, come back and help shift public opinion on Russia’s war against Ukraine.”


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