The leader of one of South Africa’s most prominent opposition parties has said he will guarantee Vladimir Putin’s safety from arrest should the Russian leader visit the African country later in the year.
At a press conference on Thursday, Julius Malema of the left-wing populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said that his party would personally protect Putin. “If need be, we will go and fetch Putin from the airport to his meetings,” Malema, a former member of the ruling ANC party who was kicked out for allegedly promoting hate speech and the overthrow of the Botswana government, said. “He will address, finish all his meetings, and we will take him back to the airport.”
His assurances, which are not backed by the South African government, come after the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin last week over allegations he conducted the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
As South Africa is a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute that established the ICC, authorities would be obligated to arrest Putin should the Russian leader go ahead with his planned visit to the country in August to attend a summit of BRICS nations – a group of emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
A spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa has refused to confirm whether South Africa would arrest Putin. “We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation,” Vincent Magwenya said. “However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders.”
But Malema has said there is no chance Putin will be arrested. “President Putin is welcome,” he added. “We know our friends. We know the people who liberated us. We know the people who supported us.”
The EFF party – the third largest in South Africa’s parliament behind the ruling ANC and official opposition the Democratic Alliance – are currently leading nationwide protests calling for President Ramaphosa’s resignation over South Africa’s growing energy crisis that has led to constant rolling blackouts.