The African National Congress (ANC) wants South Africa to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in the presidency, said that the ICC “has lost its way.” According to the media, the Minister for International Relations (foreign minister) Maite Nkoana-Mashabane indicated that the process would be orderly and not hasty. South Africa will place the issue of its withdrawal on the agenda for November’s Assembly of States Parties meeting attended by all ICC members and it would table it at the January African Union (AU) summit, she said. The ANC will bring the issue to parliament for debate.
The ANC government of President Jacob Zuma is no doubt smarting from the domestic and international criticism that followed its failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he was in Johannesburg for an AU heads of state summit. Bashir is under ICC indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The South African High Court has ruled that the government acted unconstitutionally when it failed to arrest Bashir, and the ICC has asked for an explanation.
Other factors are likely at play in the ANC decision. There is resentment that the United States, among others, supports the ICC but does not accept its jurisdiction. Bapela referred to a handful of powerful countries which refused to be ICC members, yet they still had the power to refer matters to the court.” He went on, “They would rather put their own interests first than the world’s interest.” There is also within the ANC an “Africanist” trend which seeks to align South Africa more with other African states. Many of these states object to the ICC as essentially employing a “double standard” by which Africans are prosecuted but others are not. While not unchallenged within the party, the “Africanists” appear to be growing in strength. Some of their spokesmen are highly critical of the United States as being ”unilateralist” with little respect for African sensitivities.
South Africa under Nelson Mandela was one of the founding supporters of the ICC. The Court continues to have strong support in South Africa among the opposition parties in parliament and among civil society. South Africa’s court system is strong and independent. Despite the ANC’s large majority in parliament, it is by no means certain that South Africa’s departure from the ICC will occur.