RUSSIA arrested an American journalist, Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, last week on charges of espionage.
The arrest took place while several senior leaders of the governing African National Congress are visiting Russia, among them the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Alvin Botes, and senior member of the ANC’s national executive committee, Obed Bapela.
The Russian minister of national resources and environment, Alexander Kozlov, was at the same time on an official visit to Pretoria for talks with the South African minister of foreign affairs, Naledi Pandor.
“There are some who don’t wish us to have relations with an old historical friend,” Pandor said. “We have made it clear that Russia is a friend and we have had cooperative partnerships for many, many years. While we are friends with many all over the world, we cannot become sudden enemies on the demand of others.”
Russia invaded Ukraine, a sovereign democracy and UN member state, in February last year with no direct provocation. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the war and large parts of Ukraine were turned into ruins.
Freedom of speech and the media is entrenched in Article 16 of the Bill of Rights in the South African constitution. South Africa is a constitutional democracy, meaning the constitution and not the executive or parliament are the highest authority.
Evan Gershkovich is a respected young foreign correspondent. His employer and several journalists who had worked with him, including Russian reporters, have rejected the suggestion that he was an American spy as totally absurd.
It appears that Gerskovich was investigating the mercenary group fighting on the Russian side in Ukraine and in Africa, the Wagner Group. There is great concern in Africa about this group.
South Africa is the only real democracy and the most respected state that actively supports Russia’s war in Ukraine, even though the ANC governments officially maintains that they are neutral on the issue.
Senior ANC leaders have on several occasions blamed the US and NATO for the war in Ukraine and South Africa has consistently refused to vote to condemn the invasion at the UN.
Minister Pandor warmly welcomed the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, for talks in South Africa in January this year. Shortly afterwards the South African Navy took part in naval exercises off the east coast of South Africa with the navies of Russia and China.
South Africa’s minister of Defence, Thandi Modise, had talks in Moscow with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, late last year.
The apartheid governments before 1994 also used to target journalists. There were, for example, two assassination attempts on me, my offices were bombed and I was over several years relentlessly harassed in court by the apartheid government.
As journalists with a proud record of struggle against apartheid and racism, we, Vrye Weekblad and the NVWB Media Group, demand that minister Pandor use her government’s warm relationship with Moscow to ask for the immediate release of Evan Gershkovich.
Nobody is in a better position to do that than South Africa.
Neglecting to make this demand would betray the ANC and the South African government’s own history of fighting for a free press and democracy.
It would amount to disrespect of our constitution.
♦ VWB ♦
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