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By Cornelia Le Roux

Digital Deputy News Editor

Navalny: Kremlin critic’s death initially followed by ‘echoes of silence’ from SA govt

While world leaders wasted no time in expressing their shock at the death of Alexei Navalny, the SA govt saw no need for a statement.

The headline-grabbing news of the death of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny on Friday, 16 February was initially met by a deafening silence from the South African government.

This while the death of the 47-year-old, who survived poisoning with a nerve agent in 2020, caused a global outcry against the oppressive regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin in diplomatic circles.

Alexei Navalny dies while ANC’s Mbalula is in Moscow

Navalny died at the remote Arctic Circle penal colony in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia where he was moved to in late 2023 to serve a 19-year jail term.

The prison service said the opposition leader “felt unwell after a walk” and “almost immediately” lost consciousness.

His death comes a month before an election poised to extend Putin‘s hold on power and while African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Fikile Mbalula and a delegation attended a conference in Moscow.

ALSO READ: Navalny death: What we know so far…

No statement: ‘There are other politicians…in prisons and dying – Dirco

Head of diplomacy in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), Clayson Monyela, initially said (only after City Press quizzed him about Navalny’s death) that there would be no statement from the department:

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

Monyela’s curt dismissal of Navalny’s death was, however, followed a few hours later with a short tweet on X:

“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.”

Commenting on X, award-winning journalist and editor Ferial Haffajee urged Dirco to “lead in the condemnation” of Navalny’s death in the light of South Africa’s recent “majestic stance against genocide” at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

ALSO READ: Young Russians voice fear, disbelief over Navalny death

DA mourns death of Navalny

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) released a statement on Friday in which the opposition party mourned Navalny’s death and expressed its condolences to Julia Navalnaya, the wife of the “Russian democracy advocate”.

The opposition party which held its 2024 election manifesto launch at the Union Buildings, in Pretoria, on Saturday, also mentioned Mbalula’s attendance of a conference on neocolonialism in Moscow in its statement.

“That the ANC secretary general was in Moscow fraternising with the enemies of freedom in the moment of Navalny’s death should send a resounding message to all South Africans as to where our government really stands.”

International outrage

Western governments have been quick to blame the Kremlin, according to AFP.

  • “Make no mistake, Putin’s responsible for Navalny’s death. What happened to Navalny is even more proof of Putin’s brutality,” said US President Joe Biden.
  • “The Russian government bears a heavy responsibility,” Norway’s Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
  • Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Navalny’s death was a “warning” to the world.
  • British Foreign Secretary David Cameron did not mince his words in speaking out about Putin either:

Putin’s Russia detained Navalny, trumped up charges against him, poisoned him and sent him to an Arctic prison colony, where he eventually died. No one should have any more doubts about the terrible regime in power. 

NOW READ: It’s a death wish to be Putin’s foe

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