South Africa backtracks on quitting ICC, cites 'communication error'

Wednesday April 26 2023
South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa whose state office clarified that the country would remain a signatory to the ICC. PHOTO | TOBY MELVILLE | POOL VIA AFP


South Africa is not planning to quit the International Criminal Court (ICC), as earlier suggested by President Cyril Ramaphosa, his office said on Tuesday citing a communication error from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

Hours earlier, Ramaphosa had said his ANC had decided to withdraw South Africa from the ICC, which last month issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ICC arrest warrant meant that Pretoria, due to host Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa bloc (BRICS) summit this year, would have to detain Putin on arrival.

brics bloc members

L-R: BRICS members India PM Narendra Modi; China President Xi Jinping; South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian President Vladmir Putin and Brazilian President Michel Temer. PHOTO | AFP

Read: Ramaphosa urged to arrest Putin

"The presidency wishes to clarify that South Africa remains a signatory to the ICC," Ramaphosa's office said in a late-night statement.   


It said the clarification follows an error in a comment made during a media briefing held by the governing ANC.

The ANC had earlier told journalists that the issue of South Africa withdrawing from the ICC had been raised at a weekend meeting of its national executive council.

When questioned by a journalist during a joint media conference with the visiting Finland President Sauli Niinisto, Ramaphosa said the ANC has taken that decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC.

The presidency ‘regrettably’ said Ramaphosa had erroneously affirmed a similar position to the ruling party.

In another statement on Tuesday, the ANC said an unintended impression may have been created that a categorical decision for an immediate withdrawal had been taken which is not so.

It said the executive committee, the party's supreme decision-making body, had discussed the ‘unequal’ and often ‘selective application’ of international law by the ICC.

Putin welcome 'anytime'

The arrest warrant against Putin followed accusations that the Kremlin unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.

Russia President

Russian President Vladimir Putin who has been issued with an arrest warrant by the ICC. PHOTO | ALEXEY NIKOLSKY | SPUTNIK VIA AFP

Read: Why ICC wants Putin arrested

On whether South Africa would arrest Putin, Ramaphosa said that matter is ‘under consideration’.

But his party's secretary general Fikile Mbalula earlier declared that Putin can come anytime in the country.

Pretoria has close ties with Moscow dating back decades to when the Kremlin supported the ANC's fight against apartheid.

The continental powerhouse has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine which has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, saying it wants to stay neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war. 

“South Africa has adopted this stance of being non-aligned to ensure that we are able, as a country to play a role in helping conflict to come to an end," said Ramaphosa.

He said he had spoken to Putin several times and that his message has been clear as there needs to be negotiation.

Finland’s decision respected

Ramaphosa, who last year blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine, said he respected Finland's recent decision to join the military alliance.

"It's within Finland's right to decide to join NATO. We respect that and we accept that," said Ramaphosa as he hosted his Finnish counterpart who is in South Africa for a three-day state visit.

South Africa tried to pull out of the ICC in 2016 following a dispute a year earlier when then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country for an African Union summit. 

Read: South Africa vows to keep Russia relations

It refused to arrest him, despite him being the subject of an ICC arrest warrant for alleged war crimes.

The controversial decision to pull out was however revoked when a domestic court ruled such a move would have been unconstitutional.