On Tuesday 7 May 2019, the Government of South Africa announced a new 14.5 Billion Rand (roughly $1 billion) oil deal with South Sudan. The money will pay for exploration, and possibly a pipeline and refinery in Jonglei state. Normally, such news would be celebrated as a triumph for the African integration agenda, but given the current human rights and security situation in South Sudan, peace-loving Africans must condemn it in the strongest possible terms.
Despite a peace agreement signed last September, South Sudan government forces continue to attack civilian populations that have taken no active part in hostilities, kill fleeing civilians, detain and beat captives, gang rape women, torch peoples’ homes and loot their possessions. Millions have been displaced in one of the world’s worst humanitarian situations.
Under its constitution, South Africa has international human rights obligations, and is itself a product of the international human rights struggle. Investing 14.5 Billion Rand into South Sudan’s killing machine dishonors the history of South Africa’s own heroic achievements.
According to multiple reports, the ghastly war in South Sudan is being fueled by oil profits. This is why the Ministry of Petroleum and its senior officials, as well as government-owned petroleum companies and private oil entities are either under UN or US sanctions or both. Although the entire oil sector in South Sudan is not under Security Council sanctions, South Sudan’s oil-financed weapons purchases violate a Security Council arms embargo. South Africa is free to ignore sanctions imposed by others, but as a current member of the UN Security Council, disregarding the spirit of its policies is contrary to the interests of peace and security.
This new investment will further undermine the implementation of the fragile September 2018 peace agreement. One contentious issue concerns the demarcation of state boundaries. To solve this problem, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan established an Independent Boundary Commission (IBC), which South Africa, as a member of the IGAD-Plus group stewarding the Agreement, now heads.
Once again, South Africa will be seen as taking sides in the South Sudanese conflict. The first time was when South Africa held opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar in unlawful detention for almost two years. Although Machar’s detention was reportedly at the request of IGAD – the group of nine countries mediating the Peace Agreement in South Sudan at the time, SPLA-IO the opposition group that Dr. Machar leads believes that the detention of its leader was actually carried out at the request the South Sudan Government. Now South Africa is once again strengthening the hand of the South Sudan government, while pretending to be neutral. This will only advance the perception that South Africa is too biased to lead the IBC, because if the recommendations of the IBC are seen as illegitimate, the entire Peace Agreement is in peril.
South Sudanese might be powerless to force South Africa to suspend the new oil deal, but while governments come and go, the people will always be there. They will not forget those who stood with a regime that dehumanized them, just for profit.