The ruling ANC says South Africa’s withdrawal was raised at a weekend meeting of the executive council, but the country has still signed off on the court.
South Africa has no plans to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) as previously proposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, his office says, citing a communication error by its ruling ANC party.
Hours earlier, Ramaphosa had said the African National Congress had decided to withdraw South Africa from the court which issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin last month.
The ICC order means that South Africa – which will host this year’s BRICS summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – must detain Putin upon arrival.
“The presidency wishes to clarify that South Africa remains a signatory” to the ICC, Ramaphosa’s office said in a nightly statement Tuesday.
It said the “clarification follows an error in a comment made at a media briefing held by the ruling African National Congress”.
The ANC had previously told journalists that the issue of South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC had been raised at a weekend meeting of the national executive council.
When questioned by a journalist at a joint press conference with visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Ramaphosa said the ANC has “made the decision that it is prudent for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC”.
The presidency said Ramaphosa had “unfortunately” wrongly taken a similar stance towards the ruling party.
In another statement Tuesday night, the ANC said it had created an “unintended impression that a categorical decision for an immediate withdrawal had been made. This is not so.”
It said the Executive Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, had discussed the ICC’s “unequal” and “often selective application of international law”.
Putin’s arrest warrant followed allegations that the Kremlin had unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.
On whether South Africa would arrest Putin, Ramaphosa said, “That issue is being considered.” But ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula previously stated: “Putin is due to arrive in this country at any moment.”
Pretoria has close ties to Moscow, dating back decades to when the Kremlin supported the ANC’s fight against apartheid.
The continental powerhouse has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, which has largely isolated Moscow on the international scene, saying it wants to remain neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war.
South Africa has “taken on this stance of being non-aligned to ensure that as a country we can play a role in helping end conflict,” Ramaphosa said.
He said he had spoken several times with Putin about the need for negotiations.
Ramaphosa, who blamed NATO for the war in Ukraine last year, said he respected Finland’s recent decision to join the military alliance.
“Finland has the right to decide to join NATO. We respect that and we accept that,” Ramaphosa said when he received his Finnish counterpart, who is in South Africa on a three-day state visit.
South Africa made an attempt to withdraw from the ICC in 2016 after a dispute a year earlier when then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir visited the country for an African Union summit. It refused to arrest him despite having an ICC warrant issued against him for alleged war crimes.
That decision to withdraw was overturned when a national court ruled that such a move would have been unconstitutional.