Mystery ship

Cargo ship terminal

A Russian ship has made headlines!

In the early hours of December 6, the US-sanctioned Russian cargo ship Lady R paid an unannounced call at the naval base at Simons Town near Cape Town. It loaded and unloaded cargo under armed guard during the night’s darkness. It was guided out of the harbor three days later by naval tug boats with its automatic identification system (AR) turned off. However, the secrecy continued regarding its docking and the government’s silence on the incident. Media requests for information were unanswered.

The readers’ comments were interesting. They ranged from outrage at the secrecy, accompanied by abuse of the government’s loss of its moral compass, to fury at “Nato’s attack on Russia.” Others were angry that SA was on Moscow’s side against Ukraine and that Russia had supposedly let murderers, rapists, and other criminals go free to fight Ukrainians.

South African-Russian relations have a long and not uncontroversial history. This dates back to 1942, when full diplomatic relations were established. Both countries are members of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that expect to dominate the global economy by 1950.

Yes, Moscow did withdraw its ambassador from Pretoria after Sharpeville. Even though it was known that the Soviet Union helped the African National Congress (ANC), things returned to normal. Trade mainly concerns arms and mineral resources. But in 1960, De Beers, a diamond company in South Africa, bought diamonds from Siberia to keep its global monopoly. Although it allegedly ended in 1964, the news was fake. The diamonds were sent not to De Beers at Hatton Gardens but to an obscure address. (As I reported while I was at the London “Guardian” in the late 1970s.) Oliver Tambo, the ANC’s President in exile, was assured that there was no longer an agreement with Pretoria!

In the 1980s, at the height of the revolt against black townships, a complex deal was arranged concerning Soviet arms and military vehicles. Also, at the time, experts from the South African weapons company Armscor were working on jet engine development in Leningrad. 

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, South Africa was the first African country to recognize the Russian Federation. The government denounced Ukraine’s invasion, then switched sides, though theoretically it is neutral. 

South Africa’s support dates back to the days of the struggle. However, a more substantial reason emerges by following the money: South African exports to Russia are mainly food products and capital equipment. By 2022, South African companies would have invested $5.13 billion in Russia. while Russian investments in South Africa would amount to $1.5 billion. A further link is South Africa’s R25 billion investment in the BRICS bank, according to figures quoted by Wikipedia.

It is a familiar story: nothing is as important as the economy and money.