In the week that our country celebrated Armed Forces Day, it was maybe appropriate that two of our BRICS allies, Russia and China, engaged in joint navy drills with us off the east coast of South Africa.
Armed Forces Day is held annually on 21 February, the tragic day when the SS Mendi steamship sank on its way to France during the First World War in 1917.
This year, the day was commemorated in Richards Bay, on the east coast of South Africa.
One is not sure if it was by design or coincidence, but the day before Armed Forces Day, the 42nd Chinese naval escort fleet, consisting of the guided missile destroyer Huainan, the missile frigate Rizhao and a supply vessel, also arrived in Richards Bay.
The drill, code-named Mosi-2, included the Russian frigate, The Admiral Gorshkov, and a sea tanker, The Kama, while South Africa had a frigate and two support ships. Earlier, it was reported that the Russian frigate had the Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic missile on board.
While the Minister of Defence, Thandi Modise, suggested through a statement that the drills would benefit all participating countries by aligning their operational naval systems and improving joint operations, command and control, the Acting Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in Durban, Sun Anlin, was also on hand to welcome the vessels and the joint operation which will be done by sea and air.
This was the second time that a trilateral drill between the three countries was held. The first took place off the southwestern coast, near Cape Town, in November 2019.
Initially understood as an economic and developmental alliance, BRICS countries have also appreciated the need to engage on issues of global security and climate change, especially in protecting the environment.
In fact, it was at the BRICS Summit in Benaulim, India, in 2016 that the agenda of the BRICS countries expanded into including issues of counter-terrorism, economies and climate change.
As a result, the theme for these joint drills was safeguarding sea transport and maritime economic activities.
Contrary to popular belief, China is also interested in ensuring that there is sufficient action taken to mitigate the illegal poaching off the South African coast.
For example, the Chinese fleet participating in the drill is the 42nd escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia, having set sail from Qingdao, in China’s eastern province of Shandong.
These drills are, therefore, necessary to facilitate a relationship between the Chinese, Russian and South African armed forces so as to guarantee that the essential economic routes by sea not only around the Cape of Good Hope but also around Cape Hafun, the eastern most tip of the mainland of Africa, are secured.
We know that other countries, too, patrol these waters and often escort their ships.
In August last year, the Lewis B. Puller-class expeditionary sea base, the USS Hershel “Woody Williams (ESB 4), docked in Cape Town for refuelling and to “promote maritime security through persistent presence in African waters in close cooperation with African partners,” said Staff Sergeant Dylan Murakami, from the US Navy.
Yet, it is significant that the Chinese and Russians, global economic leaders, are performing these drills with South Africa.
We understand that our BRICS partners respect South Africa as a leader on the African continent and defer to us when it comes to issues, particularly issues of security on the continent as well.
It, therefore, bodes well that both these global leaders, Russia and China, who have a military presence on the African continent, would work with an African partner and cooperate in such military exercises so as to ensure that even these are mutually beneficial and that even in the command centre there is a win-win.
Seale wrote his PhD on BRICS.