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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Can South Africa Be An Honest Broker For Peace In Ukraine?

After Beijing's dubious push to lead negotiations on settling the war in Ukraine, now it's South Africa's turn. But its "ambiguous" neutrality on the war — and reports of secret weapons sales to Russia — raise serious skepticism in Kyiv and the West.

Photo of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visits South Africa

Pierre Haski


PARIS — New peace initiatives for Ukraine continue to be announced one after the other, without much success. China has just sent an envoy to Kyiv, who will continue on to Moscow and Paris soon after.

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Now, it's Africa's turn: a delegation of six African heads of state is expected soon to go to Kyiv and Moscow "to try to find a peaceful solution" to the conflict, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

When war is raging, all peace initiatives are welcome, of course. Still, questions remain about the true motivations behind these efforts.

China, which has an ideological alignment with Vladimir Putin's Russia, has significantly increased its purchases of Russian hydrocarbons, and took over a year to establish contact with Ukraine.

The same applies to the recently announced trip by the South African president. His country is at the center of a diplomatic storm over its relations with Russia, which raises serious questions. The peace initiative seems to come at the right time for South Africa to extricate from a diplomatic predicament.

Weapons from Cape Town?

South Africa, which has always remained “neutral” in Ukraine, is accused by the U.S. of secretly providing weapons to Russia. The American ambassador has made the accusation with very specific evidence, apparently documented by U.S. intelligence.

According to the ambassador, Russian cargo ship "Lady R" took on South African weapons and ammunition at the naval base in Cape Town in Dec. 2022, despite being subject to U.S. sanctions.

The South African government was taken by surprise. President Ramaphosa announced the opening of an investigation, as if the trade could have happened without his government's knowledge. To make matters worse, the chief of the South African army was in Moscow not long ago to strengthen military ties with the Russian army, which does not exactly appear as a sign of neutrality.

Photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa

11th BRICS leaders summit in Brazil

Mikhail Metzel/TASS

A U.S. threat

South Africa is a good example of countries that have refused to condemn the Russian invasion and play on an ambiguous "neutrality."

To understand the links between the ruling ANC party and Moscow, we need to look back to the fight against apartheid and the Soviet support. We can question this persistent loyalty with Russian aggression, but it adds to a rejection of the alignment expected by Western nations.

A peace initiative in Ukraine may make these problems fade into the background.

The problem is that South Africa benefits from preferential economic clauses from the U.S., a legacy of Nelson Mandela's presidency. Behind the scenes, Washington is threatening to revoke these benefits if the country aligns itself with Russia.

The arms issue is therefore embarrassing, as is the prospect of hosting Vladimir Putin for a BRICS Summit, the gathering of emerging countries, which is scheduled to take place in South Africa this year. Putin's indictment by the International Criminal Court creates an additional puzzle.

A peace initiative in Ukraine may make these problems fade into the background. While still wishing the African heads of state in Kyiv and Moscow the best of luck, healthy skepticism remains the order of the day.

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Not Your Grandma's Nonna: How Older Women In Italy Are Reclaiming Their Age

Women in Italy are living longer than ever. But severe economic and social inequality and loneliness mean that they urgently need a new model for community living – one that replaces the "one person, one house, one caregiver" narrative we have grown accustomed to.

Not Your Grandma's Nonna: How Older Women In Italy Are Reclaiming Their Age

Italy is home to many elderly people and few young ones.

Barbara Leda Kenny

ROMENina Ercolani is the oldest person in Italy. She is 112 years old. According to newspaper interviews, she enjoys eating sweets and yogurt. Mrs. Nina is not alone: over the past three years, there has been an exponential growth in the number of centenarians in Italy. With over 20,000 people who've surpassed the age of 100, Italy is in fact the country with the highest number of centenarians in Europe.

Life expectancy at the national level is already high. Experts say it can be even higher for those who cultivate their own gardens, live away from major sources of pollution, and preferably in small towns near the sea. Years of sunsets and tomatoes with a view of the sea – it used to be a romantic fantasy but is now becoming increasingly plausible.

Centenarians occupy the forefront of a transformation taking place in a country where living a long life means being among the oldest of the old. Italy is the second oldest country in the world, and it ranks first in the number of people over eighty. In simple terms, this means that Italy is home to many elderly people and few young ones: those over 65 make up almost one in four, while children (under 14) account for just over one in 10. The elderly population will continue to grow in the coming years, as the baby boomer generation, born between 1961 and 1976, is the country's largest age group.

But there is one important data set to consider when discussing our demographics: in general, women make up a slight majority of the population, but from the age of sixty onwards, the gap progressively widens. Every single Italian over 110 years old is a woman.

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