Cape Town's Russian boat house

Andrew Donaldson on the controversy over a sanctioned oligarch docking his yacht in the Mother City


ONE of the world’s largest sex toys, the MV Nord, is sailing to Cape Town. It is, we are told, 142 metres long, has two helicopter landing pads, a mini submarine and 20 en suite staterooms. Among other amenities, it is fitted with a gym, beauty salon and a “beach club”. 

Forbes has valued it at $300-million, and others at $500-million. But, whatever its cost, its pulling power remains immense and certainly trumps anything on wheels.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the arrival of such a boat would have greatly piqued the interest of those who plied their trade at the tawdry ends of Long and Loop streets, and they’d be thronging three deep at the bar of the Windmill, waiting to warmly welcome the visitors.

Alas, no more. The old ways are long gone and a cold shoulder awaits the Nord and all who sail in her. This is not so much due to the Waterfront’s repurposing as a tourist trap, gentrification that has all but erased traces of a colourful past. (As it is, the whoring is so much higher grade these days now that smartphones have done away with streetwalking.) 

Rather, it is the ownership of this garish tub that has rendered it and its crew and passengers undesirable in the Mother City. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The Nord, which is due to arrive on 9 November after a controversial stopover in Hong Kong, is the plaything of sanctioned Russian oligarch Alexey Mordashov. Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis has written to Naledi Pandor, the international relations and cop-out minister, requesting that she bar the vessel from South African waters and refuse Mordashov entry into the country.

There was, of course, no chance of this happening given the government’s “neutral” stance — grovelling prostration, that is — on Russia’s war on Ukraine. But good on Geordin for having a bash. 

As the mayor told The Times of London: “As far as [we] know, Alexey Mordashov is on board his yacht and I don’t want Cape Town to give safe harbour to someone who has been sanctioned and who should not be given refuge as a guest of South Africa, which has a moral duty to protest unjust war.”

The newspaper went on to report that the city is a “magnet for shady characters drawn to its five-star hotels, natural beauty and poor policing that has been weakened by years of a corrupt national government” — so much so that Cape Town is now the African hub of Black Axe, the Nigerian mafia. Hill-Lewis went on to bluntly sum up the situation thus: “We have enough gangsters in our city.” 

The ANC obviously does not agree with this point of view. A cynic may be of the opinion that there is room for only one mafia mob in the city, and that is the ruling party. Furthermore, it is an uncomfortable fact that its ties with Moscow run deep, even in the post-Soviet era. 

Given that Russian support for liberation has been extended to include “advanced” medical treatment and palliative care for Luthuli House’s revolutionary old guard, the ANC is not about to turn its back on old comrades. Like the Chinese in Hong Kong, and contrary to the Allies’ wishes, they’re certainly not about to seize the floating assets of those, like Mordashov, who are close to Vladimir Putin.

Accordingly, the government announced on Tuesday that it had “no reason” to apply the sanctions brought against the oligarch and that his yacht was free to dock at any of the country’s ports. Vincent Magwenya, Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman, told reporters:

“South Africa has no legal obligation to abide by sanctions imposed by the US and the EU. South Africa’s obligations with respect to sanctions relate only to those that are specifically adopted by the United Nations. Currently, there are no UN-imposed sanctions on the particular individual.”

It is a weaselly response. As it is, the ANC has no intention of abiding by sanctions, even if they are imposed by the UN. This was clearly demonstrated by their shameful reluctance to arrest the genocidal Sudanese tyrant, Omar al-Bashir, when he was in South Africa in 2015.

As it is, Mordashov is no mere “particular individual”. He is the second-richest person in Russia, an industrialist with extensive interests in mining and steel. This makes him the object of veneration for our most devout communists. Many of them, like mineral resources minister Gwede “Hazenile” Mantashe, would welcome the opportunity of face-time with the man in the hope that some of the rouble-to-riches magic will rub off on them.

The ruling party has been roundly condemned for its failure to criticise Russian aggression against Ukraine. The response has been predictable. In March, for example, Squirrel told Parliament Nato was to blame for the war due to its eastward expansion. In August, when she met with Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, the honking Pandor complained of the West’s “bullying” on Ukraine-related issues.

As such, it is easy for the ANC to dismiss those like Hill-Lewis, a member of the Democratic Alliance, as Western toadies.

This is a grave mistake. The Western Cape is shortly to secede; it will be foolhardy of Pretoria to now jeopardise relationships with the newly independent Spesbona by antagonising its leading public servants.

A simple diplomatic solution, as I see it, would be to advise the Nord to avoid Cape Town and suggest instead it heads for another local destination. 

Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, is a possibility. Its crumbling factories will remind Mordashev of Cherepovets, the drab steel-mill town on the Volga-Baltic waterway where he was born and raised. 

Durban, though, might be a better choice. Its harbour entrance has been widened to accommodate the world’s largest ships. Parking the Nord will therefore not be a problem, even if its pilot is drunk. What’s more, the city is an ANC stronghold, and they’re suckers for the shiny stuff there. 

Another, more compelling reason for advising the Nord to voetsek — or отъебись, as the Russians prefer — and dock somewhere else is that there is a strong Ukrainian expat presence in the Mother City. As recent events have shown, these guys are not afraid of a good scrap, and they’re certainly more than PO’d with the likes of Putin and his friends.

And they’re not very happy with the ANC Youth League, which last month endorsed Russia’s referendums in occupied parts of Ukraine prior to Moscow’s annexation of territories in the eastern part of the country. The endorsement came after youth league members accepted invitations from the Kremlin to act as international monitors in this sham. 

Khulekani Skosana, who heads the league’s international relations subcommittee, has been all over Twitter, posting links to his interviews with various propaganda networks. 

“We stand in solidarity with all the oppressed people of the world,” he told the SABC. “It’s not just Donbas, we stand with people of Palestine, Western Sahara. We will always stand with those who are oppressed and those who don’t have anyone to defend them. The revolution will not be televised, that’s why we went to see for ourselves as young people of the liberation movement of President Nelson Mandela.”

The revolution will not be televised? It will be tweeted instead? Young people. Full of such foolish romantic notions these days. 

As Ukranian Association of SA president Dzvinka Kachur has pointed out, Skosana and his comrades have simply been used by Russia to legitimise a process that falls far, far short of international laws on referendums. That is putting it in a very diplomatic fashion, to say the least.

Meanwhile, I wonder if the crew of the Nord recall what happened to the Kerch Strait Bridge a few weeks back? It would be a shame if this yacht were to run into any trouble next month. Judging by the number of shipwrecks along the Western Cape coast, these things do happen — sometimes even by design.


I sometimes wonder how different newspaper headlines would have been had Alan Paton not written that bloody novel. You know the one I mean, the one with the over-traded title that is lazily deployed by the dull and unimaginative on all manner of worthy op-ed opinion pieces. 

Much to my indignation, it continues, horrifyingly, to this very day . . . and there it was, again, at the weekend, in the Sunday Times, on top of a column by Barney Mthombothi: “Cry for our beloved country in the hands of incompetent comrades.” 

My initial reaction was somewhat profane. Stripped of spluttered obscenities for those of delicate sensibilities, it was essentially this: “Thanks, but no thanks; I’m all cried out now and want to throw bricks instead.” Then, having calmed down a bit, I read Barney’s opening sentence:

“The inexorable deterioration in the country seems to be caused primarily by the promotion of people of poor quality into senior government positions — a subject that seems not to be receiving adequate attention.”

Now I felt like crying. This was serious. There were inferior people in government? Of poor quality? In charge of the railways, public health, the treasury, essential infrastructure, housing, water and other important stuff?

Dear God, but who woulda thunk? When did this happen, and why were we not informed about this?

To be fair to Mthombothi, the rest of his piece proceeded in a less alarming manner, and he delivered a convincing take-down of the new Gauteng premier, Panyaza Lesufi, making it quite clear that he was not fit for purpose. Mthombothi also gave Squirrel a bashing, saying he can’t lead and has no backbone. This is clearly the position to adopt when discussing Frogboiler’s questionable attributes.

Meanwhile. . .

The joke is that there are now just two more British prime ministers until Christmas. It is admittedly a rather tired gag, but then the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) have wearied of the comings and goings at Downing Street. It is nevertheless a thing: Rishi Sunak is the first UK leader of Indian origin. 

His appointment has been lauded in these parts as an “Obama moment”. Nelson Mandela has even been mentioned. The press in India have gleefully chattered about “reverse colonialism”. One politician there summed it up thus on Twitter: “Revenge of history as well. Destiny.”

Sunak has however already made his first serious mistake: re-appointing Suella Braverman as home secretary a mere six days after her dismissal by Liz Truss, the former PM. Braverman’s return to the cabinet is seen as a sop to hard right Tories. Her views on immigration are so extreme they make her predecessor, Priti Patel, the architect of the Rwanda refugee plan, look positively cuddly. 

Like Sunak and Patel, Braverman is of Indian origin. Her parents were immigrants, from Kenya and Mauritius. Her father, in fact, was a refugee who fled Kenya in 1968. The sort of thing that would get him chucked out of the UK now and, if his daughter has his way, bundled onto the next flight to Kigali. I may be missing something here, but it seems weird that, at the recent Tory conference, Braverman expressed her loyalty to the UK for granting her parents residency by vowing to deny such residency to others.