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The wargames of Exercise Mosi II make an absolute nonsense of South Africa’s claim to neutrality


Chelsea Ramsden is a Senior Legal Researcher at the Helen Suzman Foundation and an international human rights law scholar focussing on judicial independence, migration, and corruption.

Exercise Mosi II utterly refutes any credible notion of a neutral stance. Instead, South Africa declares its support and assistance for a state that commits sickening international war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the ultimate crime of aggression.

South Africa has stridently maintained that it is neutral in the one-year-old Russia-Ukraine conflict. If that stance could ever be maintained with integrity, 17 February 2023 marked its end with the commencement of Exercise Mosi II.

Last week the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) welcomed Russian and Chinese navy vessels with open arms to conduct “a multinational maritime exercise” intended to “strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China”.

The original itinerary involved conducting exercises relating to interoperability of the naval systems, joint disaster systems management enhancement, maritime cooperation and anti-piracy exercises”.

However, it has since come to light that Russia may also use this opportunity to demonstrate its hypersonic missile, Zircon, which is reportedly unstoppable as it flies low and fast, evading detection by radar and rendering countermeasures ineffective.

In addition, and more disturbingly, the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise says that Exercise Mosi II “will serve as a platform for the three nations to share operational skills, expertise and experience”.

The military exercise is timed to coincide almost exactly with the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. That invasion has been characterised by the conduct of hostilities on Russia’s part that is indifferent to whether targets are civilians, combatants or even protected objects and buildings.

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The UN Secretary-General’s report to the United Nations Security Council revealed that hospitals and schools had already come under attack within one month of the conflict. The Russian-Ukraine conflict also forms the subject of an ongoing International Criminal Court investigation for breaches of the Rome Statute.

South Africa abstained from voting in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution, which demanded that Russia withdraw from Ukraine and cease using force in Ukraine immediately.

Article 41 of the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts obliges a state to “cooperate to bring to an end through lawful means any serious breach” of international law. In addition, it prohibits states from rendering any aid or assistance that would maintain the situation.

While there might be challenges in imposing liability on South Africa for its failure to uphold this obligation, there can be no doubt that in hosting a military exercise designed to boast of and enhance the military capabilities of an aggressor — Russia — South Africa plays fast and loose with its own international legal duties.

Whatever else might be understood by this military exercise, it utterly refutes any credible notion of a neutral stance.

Instead, South Africa declares its support and assistance for a state that commits sickening international war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the ultimate crime of aggression.

Following the trials of Nuremberg, the Nuremberg judgment declared that: “To initiate a war of aggression… is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole”.

We have a duty as a country, not just because we have suffered grave human rights violations ourselves, but as a responsible member of the international world community, to condemn such violence and utter disregard for international law, human life and dignity.

South Africa’s actions fly in the face of our constitutional values, morals and ethics. South Africa does not have to participate in a General Assembly vote for everyone to see that it has chosen a side. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trevor Forbes says:

    It is very strange. When I look at South African trade statistics, I see huge benefits to the SA economy from the relationship with America and her allies (EU, UK, Australia, Japan, Canada). These countries import significantly more from SA than they export. As a result, these countries create jobs for South African. When I look at Russia and her Axis (China, India etc.) I see something very different. The significant trade deficit SA runs with these countries indicate SA exports jobs to their benefit. I see similar issues with tourism where the data suggest the government is risking the 1 million jobs in tourism which depend on the U.S., UK and EU and most definitely not Russia nor China. The elderly ANC hierarchy who remain stuck in liberation mode 30 years after the event need to be replaced by politicians who know how to run a country for the benefit of its people rather than ruin it to the benefit of a privileged few!

  • jcdville stormers says:

    It’s “I sold my soul to communism ,for MONEY in my backpocket,stuff the country,I’m part of Putins harem!!!

  • jill jones says:

    It is not so much a question of trade statistics, as a question of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. Putin attacked Ukraine, indiscriminately bombing cities and towns, destroying buildings both public and residential, horrifying scenes we have witnessed on our screens almost every day for the past year. The Russian leader also almost certainly has plans to widen his authoritative rule to countries beyond Ukraine, to places such as Poland, Rumania, Latvia, etc, countries once under the rope of the Soviet Union’s dictatorship. Putin’s ambitions are boundless. Ukraine and its people are brave and to be lauded.
    The ANC South African Government deserves to be ousted in 2024 for picking, Russia, the side that should and, hopefully, will lose this war, that is trying to destroy a country and its people in a way even more violent than our very own land under Apartheid.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    The real issue is who is funding the ANC, who cannot even pay their own staff, election costs & bribes for comrades votes? My guess is it is BRICKS which only means Russia & China & to ignore any sense of humanity is a small price to pay. So what is a war game between comrades?

  • Trevor Forbes says:

    It is certainly correct to use the concept of who is right and who is wrong in the context of the invasion of Ukraine. The answer to that is very clear as Russia is using its hegemony to subdue a sovereign state. Unfortunately the ANC government can’t seem to see this or maybe it is just a case they accept hegemony as long as it is Russia or China. So the key for the South African government will in the end be economic and the characteristic of South Africa’s trading partners is not on the side of the ANC’s preferred partnership with Russia and China. Just as the end of apartheid was not caused by weapons from Russia but the withdrawal of trade and investment from America, UK and Europe. Clearly the ANC need a history lesson.

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