Ukrainians in South Africa Protest Russian Battleship

Cape Town — A group of Ukrainian protesters have sailed a yacht close to a Russian warship docked in Cape Town ahead of South Africa-hosted wargames with the Russian and Chinese navies. Critics say South Africa’s hosting of Russian warships for drills at the one-year anniversary of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine pokes holes in its claim to neutrality.

Military men in uniform stood on the deck of Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate Tuesday and watched protesters aboard a yacht, which bore the Ukrainian flag.

Fearless, the group of eight, mostly women, shouted and held signs reading Stop the War.

The Russian news agency Tass quoted an unnamed official saying the hypersonic Zircon missiles carried by the Admiral Gorshkov will be test-fired during the drills.

Because of their speed, the missiles cannot be detected by existing missile defense systems.

The South African National Defense Force did not reply to requests to confirm the test firing.

Protester Dzvinka Kuchar of the Ukrainian Association of South Africa says human rights activists and environmentalists are begging the South African government to stop the war games.

"Russian state media which is fully controlled by Russian government has already said that they are planning to fire Zircon missiles during those trainings (sic),’ said Kuchar. ‘We understand that this is pure propaganda to take attention away from what Russia is doing in Ukraine. And what Russia is doing they’re killing civilians, they’re destroying hospitals, they’re destroying the lives of millions of people."

Kuchar says South Africa, which has chosen to take a neutral stance in Russia’s war on Ukraine and abstained on several United Nations resolutions condemning the onslaught, is simply being used by Vladimir Putin.

"I know South Africa says we are a sovereign country, and we can be friends with any country that we want. And this is true,’ said Kuchar. ‘But if you choose to be friends with a country that is running a war, it also sends a message about yourself. You can be friends but at least say to your friend that is causing gender-based violence "Stop beating your wife."

The mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis, who belongs to the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, replied to a tweet by the Russian Consulate in Cape Town and told the ship to ‘Voetsek.’ That is an impolite Afrikaans word that means go away.

He said the ship is not welcome and that the city would not be complicit in Russia’s evil war.

Political analyst Daniel Silke, Director of the Political Futures consultancy, says if South Africa keeps making decisions to side with Russia, there could be consequences in terms of its global standing.

"I think South Africa is entering a mine field of attempting to find a balancing act here,’ said Silke. ‘But I do think that when it comes to assistance and aid from the United States perhaps from even some Western countries, I think there may well be a reluctance, there may well be a frowning on South Africa’s stance on this particular issue."

The Admiral Gorshkov left Cape Town harbor Wednesday and is making its way to the site of the military drills off the coast of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province.

The exercise is scheduled to take place from February 17 to 27.

This is the second naval exercise South Africa is carrying out with Russia and China — which are two of its four partners in the BRICS alliance. The first took place in 2019.

Several anti-war protests against the drills are planned.