10.03.2024 Author: Yuliya Novitskaya

His Excellency Mr. Mzuvukile Maqetuka: “BRICS should be seen as an organization that will strengthen multilateralism and help the UN to be a cementing force that keeps the balance in the world”

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of South Africa to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus

My interlocutor today is Mr Mzuvukile Maqetuka, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of South Africa to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. Our conversation has turned out to be extensive, for we have wanted to discuss a lot, and also topical, interesting and, in some places, very heartfelt. How have we managed to fit it all into one interview? You will find the answer right below.

– Mr Ambassador, South Africa hosted the BRICS Summit last year. The Russian president, who for some reason did not attend, later said that President Cyril Ramaphosa “had brilliantly conducted BRICS”, and praised the South African leader’s diplomatic skills. The issue of BRICS enlargement was not an easy one to resolve, “and he did it; he did it so politely, tactfully, coming back to the same issue again and again”. How will the BRICS enlargement affect the political and economic balance of power in the world?

– Interesting question. The reasons why President Putin did not attend the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in August 2023 are known. It is the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. As a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC, South Africa is well aware of its obligations. Both Cabinet and President Ramaphosa have said that they would work on two points in relation to this issue. They have been communicating with all stakeholders from the outset in preparation for the Summit. As a result, our presidents discussed whether Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin would come. Of course, President Ramaphosa also communicated with other leaders of the BRICS member states. Therefore, the Russian President did not personally participate in the work of the summit.

We remember Putin’s words that the summit was perfectly organized. He stressed the role of President Ramaphosa. In this context, I wanted to explain how the BRICS Summit was organized in order to avoid any misunderstandings.

As for the second part of your question about how the BRICS enlargement will change the political and economic balance of power in the world… I would like to put it in a little different way. I think we should change the narrative a little, that is, we should ask the question—what was the purpose of BRICS? I think we should not focus so much on the question of balance of power. The balance of power between who and who?

I believe that multilateralism and the UN should be the linchpin for resolving conflicts in the world. Therefore, BRICS should be seen as the organization that will strengthen multilateralism and help the UN to be the cementing force for balance in the world. That is why the theme of the ongoing Johannesburg Summit was “BRICS. Africa. Sustainable Development”. We can put it this way: the BRICS will be the organization of countries that strive to build a better world and pay attention to development issues. And South Africa, as a member of the global South and BRICS, sees the development issues as the mainstream.

So, it is very important to develop BRICS. In this context, we should look at the establishment of the New Development Bank that was set up to build the infrastructure of the members of the organization. It can be seen as one of the development institutions.

– The case your country has brought against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already been described by international lawyers as “unprecedented” because “it is the first time that Israel can be tried under a treaty designed to prevent future acts similar to the extermination of Jews during the Second World War”. How do you see the prospects for this case?

– I think this trial is like throwing a baby into the water. 15 judges have already delivered their verdict. And South Africa is satisfied with the outcome. Now our country wants to see what the international community will do with the ICJ ruling. We know, of course, that some countries have taken the process further. The main issue for everyone now is the impasse between Palestine and Israel, the way out of which is the creation of two states. An independent State of Palestine must be created to coexist with the State of Israel. Of course, we understand all the difficulties involved in the two-state solution. The question is how to create them. I believe this should be a common task for the whole world. Under no circumstances should we allow the destruction of one nation by another. That will not lead to a solution.

– Mr. Ambassador, President Ramaphosa, in his closing remarks at an African National Congress rally in Boksburg on 30 January this year, warned supporters and citizens of a systematic campaign against South Africa following the filing of a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. In his view, there will be systematic campaigns of retaliation for South Africa’s actions, and, in particular, external efforts may focus on the country’s domestic politics and the upcoming elections, with the aim of achieving regime change. To what extent are such fears realistic, and do you think that such a trend (external interference in elections) is already a bad global trend?

– Regarding the complaint we filed with the ICJ, President Ramaphosa said that the response we received was expected. Of course, Israel will not sit back and watch as it is taken to the International Court of Justice. The very decision to file the case was met with mixed reactions from the international community.

As for interference in South Africa’s internal affairs, that is a different matter. But, as I said, South Africa would not stand by and watch the fate of the Palestinian people. Especially given that South Africa is governed by the African National Congress, a party that has had a brotherly and sisterly relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization for decades. You only have to look at the statements the ANC made 40 to 50 years ago about the liberation struggle of the Palestinian people. The situation has not changed. Our country supports all efforts to resolve the problem between Palestine and Israel through diplomatic and peaceful means.

– South Africa is currently the country with the most developed military-industrial complex on the African continent. What are the prospects for the development of military co-operation between our countries in the coming years?

– Our country has the most diversified economy and the most advanced banking and financial system in Africa. And indeed, South Africa’s military-industrial complex is one of the most developed on the continent. Our military contingent is involved in all peace initiatives on the African continent. This includes the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we have lost seven soldiers in recent months. We have soldiers in northern Mozambique where terrorists are fighting.

South Africa has military agreements and military relations with many countries around the world. Of course, we have extensive relations with the Russian Federation, including military relations. These relations are developing, and our leaders are promoting them.

– Mr. Ambassador, recently South Africa and Belarus have been increasing trade and economic co-operation with a focus on agriculture and food security. What other sectors are the most promising for expanding co-operation?

– Indeed, South Africa has very strong relations with Belarus, where I visit at least once a year. About 2,000 young people from our country have been trained in Belarus in agriculture, mechanical engineering, medicine, and information technology. The latest group, about one hundred students, returned home last year.

At the end of November 2023, Deputy Foreign Minister of South Africa Alvin Botes visited Minsk. The purpose of the visit was both to strengthen political relations and to explore opportunities for greater economic co-operation. For example, Minsk Tractor Plant plans to open an assembly plant in South Africa. There are companies in Belarus interested in investments in construction and in the development of so-called smart cities. The embassy promotes such dialogue and cooperation in every possible way.

Belarus would like to import black tea from South Africa, and the relevant negotiations with Beltamozhservice are already underway. Belarusians are also planning to import tinned and perishable products. Belarus is also interested in importing South African wines. Therefore, we are optimistic about the development of economic and trade relations with the Republic of Belarus.

– Russian energy companies are becoming increasingly interested in co-operation in power generation. This applies to coal-fired power plants, the hydroelectric power plant segment, etc. To what extent is your country interested in this? Are any specific projects already underway?

– As far as cooperation in the energy sector is concerned, we should mention a major R3.7 billion project between Gazprom and PetroSA to modernise an oil refinery. This is a very attractive project for us, given the problems South Africa is experiencing in the energy sector.

We know that Russian companies are interested in co-operation in the hydropower sector, in particular, RusHydro has shown such interest. We also know about the investments of Russian companies in manganese ore mining, and we know about your companies that want to invest in solar power generation in South Africa. So, in the energy sector, there is indeed co-operation at different levels.

– South Africa is one of the five largest trade partners of the Russian Federation on the African continent. For example, not so long ago the Russian Kirov Plant has started exporting construction and road building equipment to South Africa. However, the share of South Africa in the total trade turnover between our countries is still small, and we can say that there is a potential for development. What would you highlight as the most promising niches for co-operation?

– One of the successful areas is agricultural trade. These are supplies of fruit, especially citrus, and wine. South Africa is the seventh-largest importer of wine into Russia. South African wine competes with the best wines in the world. And South African fruit imports to the Russian Federation rank third after Turkish and Egyptian fruit. We are proud of this cooperation. And when winter comes to Russia, we have virtually no competition for citrus supplies.

The Russia-South Africa Business Council, which is dedicated to strengthening economic and trade relations, has seven subcommittees. And the agriculture sub-committee is one of the most active, and cooperation in the area of fruit and vegetable supplies is growing. There is a very strong representation of Russian companies in the mining sector in South Africa. And, as I mentioned earlier, they are doing very well in manganese mining.

In fact, the trade turnover between our countries is quite small. But the potential for development is enormous. Therefore, the Business Council and the governments of our countries have a lot of work to do to increase the volume of trade turnover. I repeat, the potential does exist.

– Mr. Ambassador, you are not only a diplomat but also a writer. I am also a bit of a writer, so I would like to ask my favourite question. In your books you describe your memories of your childhood, youth and adulthood in your hometown, its people, culture and history. Can we hope that one day we will have the pleasure of reading stories about your life and work in Russia?

– I am extremely grateful for this question. One of my books, “Jim tired of Jo’Burg”, is now being translated into Russian. I write fiction, not biography. I prefer to make up stories, it is easier for me.

– Then perhaps one of your stories will take place in Russia?

– Perhaps. I cannot deny it, as Russia itself is a fantastic landscape for a writer. In all the cities I visit, I always talk to library staff. For example, this week I attended an event dedicated to the 250th anniversary of Pushkin’s birth at the Rudomino Library of Foreign Literature. And in 2021, I participated in an event dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dostoevsky. But, to be honest, recently I have been a little confused, as I realised that I had not read anything by Pushkin.

– At the end of our conversation, we would like to ask our traditional question, which you have anticipated to some extent with your previous answer. What do you like best about Russia? What has touched your soul?

– Yulia, I have a passion for cultural heritage. And Russia gives me that, I mean cultural heritage, to the full. When I first came to Moscow, I stayed on the fifth floor of the Lotte Hotel. Every morning I would wake up and look at the Moscow landscape. And the most beautiful things for me were the domes of the Orthodox churches. One morning I even counted them, there were about twenty. I became interested in how Russia has made Orthodoxy part of its cultural heritage.

My other passion is libraries and bookshops, which are everywhere in Moscow. But if you ask me which is my favourite library among those I have visited, you will be surprised. It is the Belinsky Library in Ekaterinburg.


– You know, it is not the most beautiful building. It is not modern. But it is one of the best libraries in terms of organization. When I come to Ekaterinburg, I always visit it. There is something there that attracts me.

Of course, I like the National Library of the Republic of Tatarstan in Kazan. It is modern, large, beautiful. But the Belinsky Library is something different. I am also very attracted to the M.I. Rudomino Library of Foreign Literature.

What else do I like? The general development of the infrastructure. Especially in Moscow. I have often said that Moscow is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has not only does a well-developed infrastructure—this infrastructure is well-maintained. That’s what attracts me to Russia—the heritage, the culture, and the development issues.

– Dear Ambassador! Our magazine expresses our appreciation to you for the honour you have done us, and for the interesting and detailed conversation. We wish our countries further mutually beneficial co-operation in various fields and the strengthening of friendship and mutual understanding.


Yulia NOVITSKAYA, writer, journalist-interviewer, correspondent of the “New Eastern Outlook

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