South Africa: Govt Can't Refine Russian Oil, Opposition Politician Says

Petrol Pump

Cape Town — Three times this year, South Africa has abstained from voting on United Nations resolutions condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Now, South Africa's energy minister, Gwede Mantashe, has called for the country to purchase Russian crude oil, an act that would be a flagrant disregard of the sanctions against Vladimir Putin's government put in place by the United States, United Kingdom and European Union.

Opposition Democratic Alliance lawmaker Kevin Mileham said Mantashe's call is ridiculous.

"Frankly, Mr. Mantashe's comments and calls for South Africa to buy oil from Russia are misguided," Mileham said. "South Africa's refining capacity is at an all-time low at the moment with the majority of our refineries shut down, so we have no way of refining oil purchased from Russia."

Mileham said it's easier and cheaper to purchase refined fuel from refineries overseas like Singapore, the Middle East, Nigeria, Europe.

"We've seen a massive jump in the fuel price hike because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine," Mileham said. "That's the first issue. The second is that the South African economy and the rand-dollar exchange rate is also unfavorable. And that's something that is directly attributable to government.

"Government has failed to run our economy efficiently."

Mileham added: "We've seen an average of our 1.5-percent growth per annum and as a result. We're obviously an underperforming economy. And that's reflected in the rand/dollar exchange rate."

The South African government did not comment on Mantashe's statement. The minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pando, has repeatedly said South Africa is not indifferent to what is going on in Ukraine but thinks that as a matter of urgency, there must be a cessation of hostilities and that dialogue and diplomacy must be employed.

Foreign policy analyst Sanusha Naidu of the Institute for Global Dialogue said she doesn't know what the solution to the high fuel price is, but the South African government should be doing more to avoid an economic crisis.

"The fact of the matter is that South Africa has not done what it should've done at a structural level in terms of improving refining capacity, improving our own kind of capabilities, etc. ... We just haven't woken up to the idea that we could have downstream, upstream activities because half of the problem is all politicized." Naidu said. "It's all about politicization, this is a problem, that's an issue."

Mining analyst Peter Major says Mantashe's call to consider buying Russia's crude oil is an inane comment that ignores the plight of the Ukrainians and could reflect poorly on South Africa.

"It actually could have detrimental effects," Major said. "It could turn a lot of people's good will away from us here if the party keeps making statements like that. I mean to be so biased, it's just crazy. It doesn't help the country. It doesn't help the people."

The Democratic Alliance is calling for taxes, which form part of the fuel price, to be reduced. Experts say the fuel price next month could reach an unprecedented $1.69 per liter.

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