A death that left the ANC cold

Andrew Donaldson on the brutal passing of Alexei Navalny, while Fikile Mbalula was clowning around Moscow


TO paraphrase the infamous Nat police minister Jimmy Kruger, the death at the weekend of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison has evidently left the ANC cold. 

Despite international shock and outrage at what many clearly believe is a killing sanctioned by the Kremlin, our ruling elite remains callously indifferent about the 47-year-old politician and activist’s sudden death.

This disregard was demonstrated by the execrable Clayson Monyela who is, laughably, “head of public diplomacy” in the department of international relations and cooperation. Approached by City Press, he reportedly declared the department would not be issuing a statement on Navalny’s death. 

“There are other politicians who’re being held in prison and dying,” he said. “If we issue a statement about one, we must be consistent.”

A few hours later, however, Monyela took to X (formerly Twitter) to state: “Minister of International Relations Dr Naledi Pandor has noted with concern the news of the death of Alexei Navalny and hopes the circumstances surrounding his death will be thoroughly investigated by the Russian authorities. Condolences to his family and loved ones.”

Condolences to his family and loved ones? My God, but that is exceptionally stupid, cruel and heartless — even by Luthuli House standards. Perhaps the minister, now dubbed Pardon Denial by an anagram generator, has been schooled in such cynicism by her cuddly Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. 

To hong hong is one thing, but to hong hong in doublespeak? That’s something else, man, something else.

Speaking of learning stuff, it’s worth noting that Navalny’s death — murder, more like — came at a time when Russia was hosting aggrieved ratbags and tinpot tyrants at a talk-fest aimed at shoring up further anti-Western sentiment. 

The ANC was there, naturally. As Fikile Mbalula, the party’s small but shouty secretary-general, announced: “On the 15 to 17 February 2024, I will lead an ANC delegation to the Forum of Supporters of the Struggle Against Modern Practices of Neocolonialism – For the Freedom of Nations.”

Interesting title. But hold that thought for a moment and consider the word salad that passes for the agenda here. 

According to Dmitry Medvedev, the chairman of the Vladimir Putin-aligned United Russia party, this was a gathering of more than 400 representatives from some 50 countries who “know first hand what modern practices of enslavement and neocolonialism are all about”.  

In his message to delegates, Putin declared neocolonialism a “shameful legacy of centuries-long plunder” and exploitation of the people of Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions. 

“We can see its aggressive manifestations in the attempts by the collective West to preserve their stranglehold and domination at any cost, to economically subjugate other countries, to deprive them of sovereignty and to impose alien values and cultural traditions upon them.”

These “alien values” are well known, and include such basic human rights as the freedoms of expression and association. The Kremlin is clearly intolerant of what we have learnt to tolerate and accordingly bangs on about the West’s “deviant sexual orientations” and lax societal mores with such unrestrained ferocity that we suspect they may need professional help. (For those so inclined, a diverting academic paper on the popular “Gay Putin Clown” meme can be read here.)

Speaking of lax societal mores and neocolonial deviancy, what will delegates at this Freedom of Nations pow-wow make of Mr Fearfokol’s taste in bumble bee track suits and the sort of spectacles found on elderly spinsters? Here, truly, is a man enslaved by capitalism, forever trapped in the maelstrom of designer labels and upmarket boutiques. 

But back to Putin, who boasted to delegates that Russia had done “a great deal” to dismantle colonialism, support national liberation movements and develop the economies of young independent states hither and thither.

“Today,” he said, “we are prepared to join forces in the struggle for genuine freedom and justice, for progress for all countries and nations, and for the establishment of a democratic multipolar world order based on the principles of international law, respect for each other’s legitimate interests, mutual trust and constructive cooperation.”

For all this high-blown jargon, we should never forget that Putin’s “struggle for genuine freedom and justice” really is little more than a campaign to murder and silence political opponents — often in the most brutal manner.

This morning The Times reported that Navalny was likely to have been killed with a powerful blow to his heart after being exposed to freezing Arctic conditions for several hours — a technique once taught to KGB special forces operatives.

This is according to Vladimir Osechkin, founder of the human rights group Gulagu.net, who told the newspaper that accounts of bruising on Navalny’s body were consistent with this “one-punch” method.

Osechkin said that, before his death on Friday, Navalny had been forced to spend more than two and a half hours outdoors in an open-air solitary confinement space at the so-called Polar Wolf penal colony in the Yamalo-Nenets region, some 1 900 kilometres north-east of Moscow. Temperatures here could dip to minus 27C, and prisoners were usually kept outdoors for no more than an hour a day, and much less in extreme conditions.

“I think that they first destroyed his body by keeping him out in the cold for a long time and slowing the blood circulation down to a minimum,” Osechkin said. “And then it becomes very easy to kill someone, within seconds, if the operative has some experience in this. It is an old method of the KGB’s special forces divisions. They trained their operatives to kill a man with one punch in the heart, in the centre of the body. It was a hallmark of the KGB.”

Former prisoners who had served time in the Arctic region had previously reported that inmates had been killed by their jailers in this manner.

At the time of writing, Navalny’s body had yet to be released to his family. Official accounts of his death have been vague and contradictory. Russia’s penitentiary services first stated that he had lost consciousness and collapsed while walking outdoors. This was immediately followed by a claim on the state-controlled Telegram messaging site that the cause of death was a blood clot.

On Saturday, Navalny’s mother and his lawyer were handed an official death notice which said he had died of “sudden death syndrome”. This is the term for an unexpected fatal cardiac arrest in adolescents and adults. The exact cause of such cardiac arrests is often never be discovered. These deaths occur mainly during sleep or at rest.

On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, suggested that her husband had been poisoned with novichok, the nerve agent with which assassins from Russia’s Federal Service Bureau had attempted to kill him in August 2020.

Osechkin believes that this is unlikely. “It’s possible, of course,” he said, “but when someone is under the control of the prison system there are many options as to how to kill them. Novichok would leave a trace in his body and would lead directly back to Putin, given he has tried it once before.”

Such speculation aside, there is little doubt among many Western leaders that it is Putin, and Putin alone, who must shoulder the blame for Navalny’s death. In this regard, many commentators argue that he will now grow bolder and more reckless in dealing with political opponents — he clearly believes that, with his his biggest critic out of the way, he literally got away with murder. Recent news photographs show Putin smiling in a peculiarly smug psychotic manner, Simpering Death itself

And why not? All seems to be going rather well for him. Next month, a sham general election will ensure his return as president, a position he could hold until 2036.

Navalny’s death is no doubt a significant setback for Russia’s political opposition, but the list of Putin’s enemies is however growing. 

One is Yulia Navalnaya. She had previously shied away from the political spotlight, but has now vowed to continue her husband’s fight for a democratic Russia. On Monday, she released a video in which she called on viewers to stand alongside her and “share the fury and hate for those who dared to kill our future”. 

Another powerful foe is the British-American financier Bill Browder, now devoted to full-time anti-Putin activism, a course of action he chose after his close friend, lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, was beaten to death by eight goons in a Moscow prison cell after testifying against Russian government officials who were involved in a conspiracy to steal $230 million in a tax refund scheme.

Browder’s account of his friend’s murderRed Notice: How I Became Putin’s No 1 Enemy (Bantam Press, 2015), was an international best-seller. But it was the sequelFreezing Order: A True Story of Money Laundering, Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath (Simon & Schuster, 2022), that really put the Russian president’s nose out of joint, for it detailed Browder’s successful campaign to have the so-called Magnitsky legislation introduced in the United States, Canada, the European Union, Australia and the UK. 

In a nutshell, these are laws that impose travel bans and permit the seizure of assets of human rights offenders, corrupt officials and like-minded ratbags. This legislation was swiftly enforced with the launch of Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Browder wants further action: Western countries should hand over all frozen Russian central bank assets to Ukraine to assist with rebuilding the country. He first floated the idea on X (formerly Twitter) but has since launched an all-out media offensive, granting interviews to anyone who’ll give him the time of day. This is what he told UnHerd, a UK news and opinion website:

“Now is the moment. We should call it the Navalny Act. Putin is willing to lose one million men [in his ‘special military operation’], but to lose $300 billion would be a cataclysmic loss. All world leaders are looking for a way to hit Putin back for this murder. I’ve been working on confiscating these assets for the last two years, and the Navalny murder is the impetus to get it done.”

There has been resistance to the outright seizure of Russian property. According to the Financial Times, there were fears that such a move would amount to an indirect expropriation of sovereign assets, which could trigger legal claims and potentially undermine market confidence in the euro.

Navalny’s murder, however, appears to have brought the West round to Browder’s thinking. He’s had meetings with “about a dozen foreign ministers of EU countries” who now support his ideas. This was the message he conveyed in interviews with the UK media on Tuesday. He told the Mirror, for example:

“The murder of Alexei is a game changer for Putin. The fact he would kill the most popular and prominent opposition politician in plain sight without fear of repercussion says that people who are opposing Putin in Russia and abroad are in much more serious risk of assassination.

“The killing of Alexei Navalny has shown Putin has lost all restraint and that he will embark on a major ­international killing spree which will include against all his enemies in the UK. I believe there are at least a dozen people here at risk and they will focus on ­high-profile ones. Politicians are at risk.

“I’ve been fighting Putin since the murder of my lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009. And ever since they’ve been coming after me with death threats, kidnapping threats, Interpol interventions, arrest warrants and extradition requests. Putin is a murderous gangster and he kills people who stand in the way of whatever his objectives are. Unless we wake up, we’re going to find ourselves in World War Three. He’s declared war on us and we haven’t responded.

“We’ve got to get tough and do some dramatic things to show him, ‘That’s some nasty stuff you’re doing, and here’s the real cost of it.’ Russia is now a criminal country run by a criminal organisation. I am not exaggerating, these guys who run the country are murderers, thieves, torturers who only care about money and power.”

It’s no wonder, then, that the ANC leadership has cosied up to the Kremlin. They have so much in common, these guys. It’s for this reason, principally, that I believe that the ruling party’s national executive and other likeminded travellers should also be heavily sanctioned by Browder’s proposed Navalny Act. 

Such action is already being considered. Earlier this month, lawmakers in the US House of Representatives, Republican John James and Democrat Jared Moskowitz, introduced the US-South Africa Bilateral Relations Review Act, draft legislation that suggests Pretoria’s “non-aligned” claims are mendacious rubbish. 

If passed into law, the act will compel the US to undertake a systemic review South Africa’s recent activities, such as its fawning support for Russia, China and the death cult Hamas, to determine whether they undermine Washington’s national security and foreign policy interests. Should that be the case, a “substantial reordering” of the trade relations between the US and South Africa could be on the cards.

Which is all very well but, in the interim, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Louis Vuitton and other prestigious labels should refuse to sell their luxury goods to Fikile Mbalula. It’s a big sacrifice, I know, seeing as the little guy can’t help blowing the bank on their shiny shit, but look at it this way: their loss will be a big win for democracy.