South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa has retracted the stance he made Tuesday that the country would withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
The president’s office late Tuesday walked back comments Ramaphosa made earlier that day at a briefing, saying he misspoke when he said the governing African National Congress (ANC) party would “pull out” of the International Criminal Court.
His remarks sparked controversy as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is wanted by the ICC for war crimes in Ukraine, is invited to an August summit in South Africa.
As a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, Pretoria is required to arrest Putin if he sets foot in the country.
But just hours after Ramaphosa said the ANC party would quit the court in The Hague, his spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, said the remarks were an error.
“South Africa remains a signatory to the ICC in line with a resolution of the 55th national conference of the ANC – held in December 2022 – to rescind an earlier decision to withdraw from the ICC,” he said.
Magwenya said the correction followed an error made at a media briefing by the ANC on South Africa and the ICC, which he said the president had “regrettably” and “erroneously” affirmed.
Ramaphosa had said there had long been a feeling in the governing party that the court treats some countries unfairly.
The ANC wanted to pull out of the ICC some years ago but was prevented from doing so by a South African court ruling that found it unconstitutional.
It is not yet clear if Putin will attend a summit of the BRICS group of emerging nations– Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Even if he does, it is far from guaranteed that South Africa would arrest the Russian president.
Pretoria refused to act on an ICC arrest warrant in 2015 when former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited.
The African National Congress party is staunch friends with Moscow, which as leader of the Soviet Union supported its fight against Apartheid’s white minority rule.
Kyiv also supported the ANC’s struggle for democracy, but Pretoria has so far refused to condemn the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.