🔒 RW Johnson: Ramaphosa’s Russian-prompted ‘Regime Change’ fixation

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has raised eyebrows with a warning of foreign interference, suggesting sinister attempts at “regime change.” Speculation abounds, with some tying the remark to anti-Semitic insinuations involving Israel and others pointing to potential Russian involvement. As the ANC faces declining popularity and internal challenges, the sudden influx of funds, possibly from Russia, adds intrigue. Ramaphosa’s use of the term “regime change” mirrors Russian propaganda, fuelling speculation of Kremlin influence in South Africa’s political landscape, raising concerns about the integrity of upcoming elections.

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By RW Johnson

Cyril Ramaphosa’s dark warning that South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice might lead to sinister foreign powers intervening in South Africa – presumably in concert with Opposition forces here – in order to achieve “regime change” has mystified many. Some have interpreted it as an anti-semitic hint that Mossad, in conjunction with South African Jews, might attempt to overthrow the ANC.___STEADY_PAYWALL___ Certainly, the SABC reported that “:The ANC is on high alert for possible attempts of regime change in South Africa by Israel” and that Ramaphosa “expects a full-blown fightback from the Israelis”. Others within the ANC have talked, equally darkly, of Israel’s “cheque-book diplomacy” or of “Jewish money power”. The broader point, however, is that Ramaphosa, in all his years as Deputy President, then, from 2017 as a candidate for President and finally since 2018 as President – has never resorted to such conspiratorial language before. So where on earth does this suddenly come from ?

At this point it’s best to pause and think of the general situation. Poll after poll is coming out showing the ANC at well under 50%. The ANC is in a panicky state: too many careers, livelihoods, crooked deals and criminal networks all depend on the ANC keeping power. Even if the ANC gets 50% that would still mean many ANC MPs, provincial councillors and other placemen losing their jobs. Note the desperate hope of mobilising Thabo Mbeki to campaign for Ramaphosa. In fact both Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, for their very different reasons, seem to have sized up the situation, decided that the Ramaphosa administration is on the brink of collapse and, since both of them utterly despise Ramaphosa,  have decided to give it a final, decisive push. 

All liberation movements in Africa have reached this point. They all become hopelessly corrupt and are incapable of competent governance. People become fed up with them and want a change. At which point the MPLA/Frelimo/Zanu-PF begin to rig elections, to play dirty and to use intimidation, bullying, the illegitimate use of state resources and ultimately violence, for the idea of allowing anyone else to rule in their place is utterly anathema to them, In Zimbabwe, once Mugabe lost the referendum of 2000, torture murder, manipulation of the voters’ roll and straightforward stuffing of ballot boxes were widely used to prevent any free election from turning the government out. Indeed, means of this sort have been used by Zanu-PF to falsify every election since 2000. 

The big question about the ANC has always been whether it would give up power if it lost an election – or, more pertinently, whether it would allow a really free election if it looked like it might lose. After all, particularly under President Mbeki, South Africa has gone to great lengths to claim that all Zimbabwe’s elections have been free and fair when the (opposite) horrid truth was obvious to the world. (Indeed, when Mbeki tried to convince other Commonwealth leaders at Coolum (Australia) that the 2002 Zimbabwean presidential election had been free and fair the response was simply laughter. The Commonwealth team of election monitors had, after all, reported that the election had been disgracefully unfree and unfair.) Such behaviour by Mbeki and other ANC leaders has naturally caused many to doubt the ANC’s commitment to democratic values and procedures. And we have now reached a point where this is a very pertinent concern. Already several party leaders have made it clear that they don’t wholly trust the Independent Electoral Commission – for, indeed, the IEC has always been subject to ANC cadre deployment. Julius Malema has frequently pointed out that in many areas the election officials are local schoolteachers, members of the SADTU union, which is wholly committed to the SACP/ ANC side.

When the ANC recently settled out of court with Ezulwini Investments, paying them their bill for R102 million plus interest since 2019, there was much speculation that the money might have come from Iran or Qatar as a reward for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. This was never more than a wild guess, though it was obvious that a major donor must have stepped in to help the ANC which had been having difficulty in paying the salaries of its own staff and which had been down to its last R100,000 in its bank account. Suddenly not only was Ezulwini paid off but there was no more difficulty over paying staff salaries and the party had already thrown itself into an energetic and unusually prolonged election campaign. Nobody doubts that this will cost many hundreds of millions of Rands – its previous national election campaign was reckoned to have cost R1 billion.

In fact it is far more likely that this sudden affluence was due to Russian, not Iranian or Qatari generosity. Through its Chancellor House subsidiary, the ANC owns a share in United Manganese of the Kalahari, a mine in which the principal shareholder is the Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, who has close links to the Kremlin. Vekselberg has already been a major donor to the ANC – in 2022 he gave it $826,000 (R15.7 million) to help pay for its conference. Vekselberg’s mining interest in South Africa gives him the opportunity to act as a conduit for Kremlin funds should Putin desire to help the ANC stay in power.   

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And we know that Putin does very much want the ANC to stay in power. The Kremlin  has been delighted by Pretoria’s pro-Russian stance over the Ukraine war and articles have appeared on the website run out of the Russian presidency in which the DA is denounced as a tool of US imperialism and in which it is made clear that the maintenance of the ANC in power is a major Kremlin objective. And we know that the Kremlin has considerable experience in interfering in other countries’ elections in order to achieve results preferred by Putin. So there is a very real possibility that the ANC’s secret donor who has suddenly solved its money problems is Russia.

Putin’s Russia has been marked by the rise of what are called “political technologists” – what would be called spin-doctors in the West: experts in polling, focus groups, PR, news management and the artful presentation of social media messaging. It is likely that in addition to helping the ANC with money Moscow will have sent some of these ”political technologists” to advise and assist the ANC campaign.  And this is very likely the source of Ramaphosa’s reference to “regime change”. For this is a tell-tale phrase ever-present in Kremlin propaganda.  

As Moscow looks back on the overthrow of Communist regimes by peaceful citizen movements – throughout Eastern Europe in 1989-91 and later with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine – its conviction has grown that these were merely the cover for, effectively, Western-organised coups aimed at, yes, “regime change”. There is a singular dearth of evidence for such a conclusion but what the Kremlin remembers very sharply is George W. Bush’s frank admission that the US wanted “regime change” in Iraq. If that was an admissible objective there, why not elsewhere ?

It should be noted that the point of this term in Kremlin usage is to deny what is often the reality of popular demand for regime change. There is absolutely no doubt that the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe fell because of their overwhelming popular rejection by electorates who had been denied free and meaningful elections for many decades. The same is true of the popular uprising which overthrew the (pro-Russian)  Yanukovych regime in the Ukraine in 2004-5. In all these cases the protestors were motivated by anti-Soviet or anti-Russian feelings and this is the reality which the Kremlin wishes to deny by trying to argue that these were merely palace coups arranged by foreigners. Thus what were undoubtedly popular and democratic changes are instead described as illegitimate and undemocratic changes. In exactly the same way, of course, the fact that the polls are showing a majority turning against ANC rule now prompts the suggestion that the ANC is threatened by (illegitimate and undemocratic) regime change, to be effected by foreigners. If this usage is followed those South African citizens who vote against the ANC are merely traitors collaborating with sinister foreign forces. 

In other words Ramaphosa’s sudden suggestion of an international conspiracy aimed at regime change in South Africa sounds very much like the influence of Russian spin-doctors. One can only guess at the circumstances in which this notion of foreign-inspired “regime change” was planted in Ramaphosa’s head. We know that the President is an empty shell, that he makes promises with little thought of keeping them, that words come and go from his mind all too easily. It would not be difficult for a determined adviser to influence him towards the idea of “regime change”. 

And there can be no doubt that the Putin regime will be eager to lend its assistance to keep the ANC in power – and that if such help was offered, the ANC was certain to accept it. Indeed, it is already quite possible that Russian “political technologists” are operating in Luthuli House or even in the presidency. If that is indeed the case we should ready ourselves not only for more of the same but for even more dramatic publicity stunts, probably involving the use of social media. Though Russian intervention in the electoral process might not stop there. For the polls are looking bad for the ANC and there is no way that the Kremlin will accept an ANC defeat. Putin’s “political technologists” have kept him in power for almost a quarter of a century and Putin will be greatly displeased if they fail to achieve the same for Ramaphosa and the ANC.

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