A Russian battleship docked in Cape Town this week, sparking yet more international diplomatic tension.
The arrival of the Admiral Gorshkov would have gone largely unnoticed, had the Russian Consulate in Cape Town not tweeted about being “hosted” by the Mother City.
Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis took umbrage at the suggestion that the city had welcomed the frigate, which is due to take part in a naval exercise with its SANDF and Chinese counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal this weekend.
With the hashtag #VoetsekRussianWarship and tagging @PresidencyZA, he tweeted: “We are not hosting this warship, nor is it welcome in the Mother City. Cape Town will not be complicit in Russia’s evil war.”
The mayor’s broadside at the Russians missed the mark completely, however, for several reasons.
For starters, while Hill-Lewis and his party, the DA, have taken a clear position in the war in Ukraine, he is not authorised to make pronouncements on the South African government’s foreign policy.
We are not hosting this warship, nor is it welcome in the Mother City. Cape Town will not be complicit in Russia's evil war. @PresidencyZA must answer for his complicity. #RWSGFY #VoetsekRussianWarship https://t.co/3XOu82xOAL— Geordin Hill-Lewis (@geordinhl) February 13, 2023
Second, the mayor does not represent the views or wishes of all Capetonians, or even all of local government for that matter.
Diplomacy is a tricky game. While the invasion of a sovereign country, or even the threat or notion of an invasion, is reprehensible, we live in a complex international community, held together by a delicate balance of power between East and West.
South Africa has done well to build strong ties with both sides, BRICS being a good example of this. Jeopardise these ties at your peril.
Minister of International Relations Naledi Pandor has defended the naval exercise, saying it’s normal for countries to conduct military exercises with “friends”.
The minister was however conspicuously quiet when SA Rugby recently withdrew the participation of the Tel Aviv Heat rugby team from next month’s Mzansi Challenge tournament.
The contradictory message this sends out is that it’s okay to be neutral when Russia invades Ukraine, but not acceptable when Israel occupies Palestinian territory.
And until Hill-Lewis tells Western invading countries, the United States being a prime example, to “voetsek”, his foreign policy remarks will be viewed as little more than cheap hypocrisy.
* Taariq Halim, Editor of the Cape Argus newspaper.