Long stories short
- A 7.7 magnitude earthquake triggered tsunami warnings in New Caledonia.
- Japan said Zelensky would fly to Hiroshima to warn the G7 about Putin’s nuclear weapons.
- Disney, feuding with DeSantis, scrapped a $1 billion investment in Orlando.
South Africa’s Russia crush
The US ambassador to South Africa accused it last week of supplying arms to Russia. Reuben Brigety said he would “bet his life” that South Africa loaded weapons and ammunition onto a Russian ship called the Lady-R, a US-sanctioned vessel that turned off its transponder before docking at Simon’s Town Naval Base in the Western Cape last year.
So what? South Africa has furiously denied the claims and launched an investigation. Brigety reportedly expressed his regret for the comments. But the accusation has caused a diplomatic firestorm:
- It knocked a question mark-shaped hole in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s assertion that South Africa is “non-aligned” on the Russia-Ukraine war.
- It has underlined how much support Russia – and how little Ukraine – has across the Brics countries and the wider developing world.
– It has left Washington seething. There is talk of export restrictions on an economy that can ill-afford them, and the US is no more impressed with South Africa’s claim that a trip to Moscow this week by its army chief was “planned well in advance”.
Wither the Beloved Country? The African National Congress, once the mighty party of Mandela, is a hollowed-out shell. Corruption is eating into the country’s marrow, but somehow the ANC still holds the reins, trading on moral credit which should have expired long ago. The same can be said of Russia’s image in South Africa
- The Soviet Union backed the ANC’s decades-long fight against apartheid.
– Many older officials even studied Russian at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow.
- There is still a real affection for Russia and disgust for Western actions in Iraq and Libya, translating into support for Putin.
Money probably helps, too. Victor Vekselberg, a close ally of Putin, is a major investor in South African manganese mining. A company linked to the oligarch donated almost a million dollars to the ANC last year.
Empty shelves. American intelligence has proven remarkably accurate since the invasion of Ukraine, and US agencies reportedly had several satellites pointing at the Lady R. However, it is not clear what South Africa has that might have been worth shipping to Russia.
Under apartheid, it had a fearsome military-industrial complex, but its armed forces are in a shabby state today:
- Pretoria could only field a single warship for naval exercises that it conducted with China and Russia on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
- Insiders say even South Africa’s special forces have barely enough weapons to take on jihadists in northern Mozambique.
- What weapons South Africa does have are Nato-aligned, rendering them mostly useless to the Russian war machine.
Fumble to farce. South Africa is bracing for an economic hit. It could be struck off AGOA, a trade deal which gives select African countries preferential access to the US market.
- This alone could cost up to $3.1 billion a year in exports. Even for Africa’s most developed economy, this would be a catastrophic blow.
- Only 0.2 per cent of its exports currently go to Russia, compared with 9 per cent to the US (and 10 to China). “SA is standing blindfolded on the edge of a precipice,” a top South African analyst writes.
Catch up. This week it was announced that Ramaphosa would head up an African peace mission to Kyiv and Moscow. Never mind that South Africa has proven inept at stopping conflicts closer to home in Ethiopia, Sudan and DR Congo. It’s also preparing to welcome Putin for a Brics summit in August, despite an international arrest warrant against him.
Ukrainian officials are too diplomatic to show their anger in public but are probably looking on with scorn.
Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa struggled at the beginning of the war even to get meetings with the Department of International Relations, says Steven Gruzd, head of the Russia-Africa project at the South African Institute of International Affairs. “And I think overall Ukraine would have been disappointed in South Africa. Even though it says that it’s non-aligned, its actions seem to show it favours Russia.”
What would Mandela think?
This article has been amended after publication.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
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