South Africa’s defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, says the cabinet is discussing adding South African Navy (SAN) ships to the anti-piracy forces ranged around the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean.
However, the issue, as seen from South Africa, is apparently not as simple as it appears to Western nations, who see only that their sea-lanes are threatened. South Africa, however, is part of the African Union (AU) as well as other international organisations and is aware of African sensibilities about foreign intervention, as well as serious problems in Somalia. Speaking to Digital Journal on board the SAS Mendi, she said:
We are very concerned about security around Africa because it is part of our responsibility and therefore we are very mindful that we would want to play our role, but we remain very open-minded. We had a discussion, it was an open discussion with the media, between the Chief of the defence force and the Chief of the navy -- the -- admiral and you could see even at that point that there were divergent views about exactly what South Africa’s position should be.
She indicated there was a conflict between the country’s international obligations and exactly how to tackle the Somali piracy issue, which was part of a larger problem:
This is a matter that has been placed before the president by the EU ambassador, requests have been made to us, we are discussing the matter at a political level, and when a decision has been made it will be made public.
The minister visited the SAN frigate together with members of the parliamentary defence portfolio committee, partly so they could see just what the navy was capable of, but also to educate herself on the details of the matter:
Today was one of those opportunities that I have given myself to actually understand what piracy is about and the deputy minister and myself were given a running commentary on how piracy occurs and I was assured that no pirates would ever dare approach a warship, but this happens quite frequently on merchant ships, especially in the Gulf of Aden, as we all know.
In fact Sisulu was mistaken, as warships of the international navies have in fact been attacked, some quite recently, as Digital Journal. reported.
Meanwhile the Acting Chief of the Navy, Rear Admiral Bernard Teuteberg, answering a question from Digital Journal, tried to show the complexity of some of the issues surrounding Somali piracy. He said:
I was sitting next to the first deputy prime minister of Somalia, last week in (the Ethiopian capital) Addis Ababa. We spoke extensively about the situation around the Somali coast. It’s a Somali problem, number one.
Although Teuteberg did not elaborate, commentators have often pointed out the root of the piracy is the disarray within Somalia itself. The website Before It’s News comments on a report by the The British House of Lords EU Committee, saying:
The EU is rightly taking a comprehensive approach, seeking to address political, economic and security aspects of the crisis in a holistic way. However, the causes of fighting and insecurity in Somalia are deep-rooted and complex. Progress on peace and security will largely depend on the Somalis themselves, including the actions of the fledgling Transitional Federal Government
Teuteberg addressed what appears to be the biggest problem of all:
The frigate SAS Spioenkop would be part of any anti-piracy force sent to patrol the Indian Ocean.
Number two, there’s huge distrust between the Interim Transitional Government of Somalia and the international forces, which are participating, in anti-piracy operations. The first deputy prime minister of Somalia, Professor (Abdulrahman Adan) Ibrahim, spoke in public, and he stated that the only reason why he saw that the NATO forces are there (is to) to protect their own fishing vessels and commercial vessels against what he calls the exploitation of the Somalian fishing grounds.
Teuteberg stressed that he was not referring to the EU’s naval force’s (EUNAVFOR) Operation Atalanta, but to NATO warships and the US Task Force 151. He pointed to the fact that a major disagreement between Somalia and many countries was that they had created a self-proclaimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). He said:
It’s not recognised as an EEZ; so in fact, fishing is, in international eyes, not illegal. Somalians see it as illegal. It is a very, very complex situation, and we should be very careful.
He also referred to what seems part of South Africa's dilemma:
But we’re also part of the AU, we’re part of United Nations.
It is clear that despite serious budget constraints and the extra costs of providing protection for the FIFA Soccer World Cup, South Africa, one of the developing world’s major military forces, is looking seriously – but not in a simplistic way – at some kind of involvement in the failed state that is Somalia today and its spin-off, piracy on the high seas.