Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has urged the South African government to deny entry to a Russian billionaire's megayacht, warning that allowing it to dock in the country could lead to sanctions.
Steel and mining tycoon Alexei Mordashov is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S., European Union and allies have been seizing property of Russian oligarchs close to Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine.
The $500 million megayacht Nord left Hong Kong after that city was accused of giving safe haven to those who've been sanctioned. It is expected to arrive in South Africa on November 8 or 9. Although it is not known exactly where it will dock, the popular port of Cape Town is said to have people with the skills required to maintain the vessel.
"The position of the South African government on the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine and the illegal war being perpetrated there has been nothing short of spineless and embarrassing," said Hill-Lewis, a member of the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which controls the municipality but remains subject to national policies set by the African National Congress ruling party.
"In this case," he added, "they had an opportunity to put some of that right by standing up for principle, by standing up for international law and enforcing sanctions by refusing entry to Mr. Mordashov and his enormous luxury yacht."
Hill-Lewis said he will continue to object.
"This is an enabler of Putin's war and of Putin's regime, and he should be stopped. He should not be welcome. But unfortunately, they have missed an opportunity, and they have decided to muddle through sitting on the fence without taking any clear principled position on this matter," he said. "I will certainly stand up for the basic principle that Cape Town and South Africa should not be offering safe harbor to international criminals."
South Africa has abstained from voting on every United Nations resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which started in February.
After the most recent vote earlier this month, South Africa's ambassador to the U.N., Mathu Joyini, said South Africa remains steadfast that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy is the only path that will lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya discussed Mordashov's yacht at a media briefing this week.
"South Africa's obligations with respect to sanctions relate to only those specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no U.N.-imposed sanctions on the particular individual," Magwenya said. "Therefore, South Africa has no legal obligations that the U.S. and EU have decided to impose within specific jurisdictions. For as long as individuals abide by our immigration laws, we have no reason to prevent their entry into South Africa."
Brooks Spector, a political analyst and associate editor of The Daily Maverick, said the South African government should be condemning the war.
"If it had been me and I were in charge, which I'm not, I would've said, 'No, the ship can't dock until we have proof that it has no relationship to the war effort or other transgressions,' and that would've put a stop to the immediacy of it and perhaps postponed if off to the distant future as a port visit," Spector said.
He said in this instance, the South African government's expressed desire to take a neutral stance is damaging its reputation.