‘Especially profit for Russia in military exercise in South Africa’

The Admiral Gorshkov in Cape Town harbour

NOS NewsFriday, 06:53

  • Ellen van Gelder

    correspondent Afrika

  • Ellen van Gelder

    correspondent Afrika

In a small rented boat, eight demonstrators sailed this week in the harbor of Cape Town to a Russian frigate. Among the activists was Ukrainian Dzvinka Katsjoer, who has lived in South Africa for a long time. She was holding a sign that read “No Russian war games in our waters.” Russian marines came on deck and watched the activists from their ship, the Admiral Gorshkov.

A small protest against a giant. The warship, which is equipped with the hypersonic Zirkon cruise missiles, was on its way to the east coast of South Africa, where a military exercise with the navies of Russia, China and South Africa will be held from today. The operation lasts ten days, almost a year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian Propaganda”

That stings demonstrator Katsjoer. “This is Russian propaganda,” she says. “The Russians want to show that there are still countries that accept them.” The mayor of Cape Town also reacted after the unexpected stop: “Cape Town does not want to be complicit in Russia’s brutal war,” tweeted the mayor, who is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance party. He added: “#VoetsekRussianwarship”, where “voetsek” is an Afrikaans word that means “fuck off”. The Democratic Alliance believes that South Africa is sending a signal of loyalty to Russia.

But the South African government, dominated by the ANC, does not see the problem and insists on its neutrality when it comes to the war between Russia and Ukraine. According to the cabinet, the military exercise is a way of strengthening good relations between South Africa, Russia and China.

South Africa says the exercise (Mosi II) is simply a follow-up to Mosi I in 2019, which also hosted Russia. And that it is no different from previous exercises with the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana and the United States.

Since the beginning of the invasion, South Africa has wanted to remain neutral. This was deviated from once: just after the invasion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the Russian troops to withdraw, but that happened while President Ramaphosa was abroad.

When shortly afterwards there was a UN vote for a resolution demanding that Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine, South Africa abstained. Since then, the government only talks about a peaceful solution through dialogue.

Display of power

South Africa’s refusal to take sides is partly due to historical ties. The Soviet Union supported the ruling party ANC in the fight against apartheid. There is also an economic explanation: South Africa, together with Russia, China, India and Brazil, is part of BRICS, an alliance of emerging countries.

Political commentator Peter Fabricius believes that South Africa does choose sides as a result of the exercise, and is therefore not neutral. According to him, Russia in particular will benefit from the exercise. “Our navy is in bad shape, I’m not sure what they have to gain from this.”

He thinks South Africa’s attitude towards Russia is wrong. “Russia is coming with a frigate with Zirkon missiles and says it will also test it,” he continues. “The South African defense force denies that there will be firing, but even then it is a show of force. And you have to ask yourself whether we are not helping the Russian navy in this way. It jeopardizes good relations with the West. “

Neutrality legitimizes invasion

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, wrote at the end of January after a visit to South Africa that he hopes that the country will use its good relations with Russia to convince Moscow to end the conflict in Ukraine. A neutral position legitimizes the invasion, he believes.

There are no really hard words yet, because they could drive South Africa further towards Russia. The South African foreign minister recently said that his country will not allow itself to be dictated by the law. The joint exercise with Russia is a sign of this.