The leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is visiting Ukraine to see the damage and suffering caused as a result of Russia’s war, a statement said Wednesday.
“I am in Ukraine to see for myself and to speak for my country. Someone must. It is strongly in South Africa’s interest to stand with the free world and come out hard against Russian aggression,” said John Steenhuisen.
According to the statement, Steenhuisen is currently on a six-day visit to the Eastern European nation. He started his tour early this week and will stop over at refugee camps and hold meetings with various leaders including mayors and governors as well as students and ordinary Ukrainian citizens.
A Twitter post on Steenhuisen’s official page shows photos of him meeting with the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, and Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytskyi during his visit.
The opposition leader said he wants to see first-hand the effects of the Russian war and the ongoing occupation of parts of Ukraine.
“In the era of fake news and propaganda, this is the only way to truly know what is happening,” he said.
Steenhuisen said Russia’s war against Ukraine is not a European problem but a global one whose impact is also being felt in Africa.
“The knock-on effect of this war on our own fuel, maize, cooking oil and fertilizer prices will reach deep into the pockets of poor South Africans who can already not make ends meet,” he said.
Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s largest grain producers, together exporting more than a quarter of the world’s wheat.
Steenhuisen blamed President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has already made his stance public on the Russia-Ukraine war.
Ramaphosa was the first African leader to launch a barrage against the West, blaming NATO for the war in Ukraine. He said he would resist calls to condemn Russia.
“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” he said in parliament last month.
Most African countries have remained silent on the war.
“Russia’s expansion into Africa has been through ‘elite capture,’ where pliable leaders are ensnared in long-term patronage schemes. Fifteen African nations are currently involved in Russian-financed nuclear power deals, and many more are locked into Russian security contracts” Steenhuisen claimed.
At least 3,238 civilians have been killed and 3,397 others injured in Ukraine since the war with Russia began on Feb. 24, according to UN estimates. The true toll is feared to be much higher.
More than 5.6 million people have fled to other countries, with over 7.7 million people internally displaced, data from the UN refugee agency shows.