RW Johnson: Amandla – meet Zuma’s Russian-funded media business

Writing by our tribe’s favourite columnist, RW Johnson, is usually only available to Premium subscribers. But this contribution demands the widest possible audience because it exposes a Kremlin plot with potentially massive ramifications for South Africa’s young democracy. Johnson, an Aparteid-era exile who became a long-time Oxford University politics professor, turned to full-time writing after returning to SA in the early 1990s. In this explosive piece he takes a close look at an SA-based, Russian-funded media business whose main purpose is to harvest votes for Jacob Zuma’s MK party. Recently created Amandla.site123 has a website, broadcast operations, a growing social media presence and plenty of resources. In this powerful article, Johnson exposes the Kremlin’s secret ploy to expand soft power in Africa’s most industrialised state.

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By RW Johnson

There has been a good deal of speculation about Russian involvement in the South African election campaign. Much of this has centred around the donations to the ANC of United Manganese of Kalahari (UMK), a mining concern in which Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch with strong Kremlin links, is a major investor. In effect the assumption is that UMK is a prime conduit for Kremlin support for the ANC. In addition, a website run by the Russian Presidency has strongly attacked the Opposition Democratic Alliance and made it clear that the Putin regime is determined to keep the Russia-friendly ANC in power. 

However, the Russians know the ANC extremely well, having harboured and funded its leaders through the long years of exile. They are well aware of its factional disputes and its inner struggles. Andre Pienaar, an emigre South African now working in the US and a former Scorpions operative, cautions that the demise of the Wagner group has seen the GRU (Russian military intelligence) take over as the guiding force behind the expansion of Russian influence in Africa. In particular Pienaar points to Jacob Zuma as having had a long association with the GRU and points to Zuma’s frequent visits to Moscow (with medical reasons usually given as a bogus excuse) as a result of this continuing association. This would, indeed, be normal enough: Zuma headed the ANC Intelligence department and this department leaned heavily on the training and mentoring of Soviet intelligence, both the KGB (now the FSB) and GRU. 

In addition it should never be forgotten that while President, Zuma pushed extremely hard for a $76 billion deal for the Russian company, Rosatom, to build a fleet of eight nuclear power stations in South Africa. This produced a storm of protest from all manner of civil society groups and the media. Such a deal was obviously completely unaffordable and it was common knowledge that such deals were almost invariably massively corrupt, with large kickbacks the rule. Given the looting characteristic of the Zuma regime the worst was feared. 

In addition, of course, the political impact of South Africa choosing a Russian contractor would have been considerable. Moreover, such contracts would necessitate continuous revenue streams of payment for intellectual, technical and engineering services and a more or less permanent Russian presence in South Africa’s energy mix. 

Even after the proposed deal had been turned down legally Zuma continued to press for it and in 2015, on the eve of a visit he was making to Moscow, he demanded that the Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, provide him with a letter of guarantee of funds which he, Zuma, could then present to Putin. Nene refused, saying he would need to examine such a request very carefully because it was unaffordable. (Later Nene also said that it was clear that the deal, which he evaluated at $100 billion, had been inflated to include huge kickbacks to Zuma and the Gupta brothers.) Nene was immediately fired by Zuma. Once Ramaphosa succeeded to the presidency he quickly cancelled the nuclear deal. 

In power Ramaphosa proved willing to give ground to the strongly pro-Russian elements within the ANC and there was never any doubt that Russia wanted to keep South Africa as a major new ally. Winning South Africa to Moscow’s side – a traditionally pro-Western country and a member of the Commonwealth – has been Putin’s only major diplomatic achievement. But there is no doubt that Moscow prefers Zuma. Zuma is, so to speak, one of their own and should he regain power he would not only be far more anti-Western but would move South Africa much more decisively into Putin’s orbit. And there is still the tempting possibility of the nuclear deal….

According to Andre Pienaar the GRU has not only helped Zuma organise the MKP but was also instrumental in organising the 2021 riots. This would make sense for there was clearly a well-trained and expert hand at work there. The shopping malls which were ransacked and burnt invariably had very sophisticated and well-hidden alarms and sprinkler systems but on each occasion that such a mall was attacked the intruders went straight to those alarms, knew how to disable them, and turned the sprinklers off. No ordinary township scavenger would have known how to do that.

In addition the MKP is quite well organised. Its posters are everywhere, as are its T-shirts and meetings. If one remembers how utterly Roger Jardine failed to get Change Starts Now off the ground, MKP is impressive when one considers that it has sprung from nowhere only a few months ago. In fact, it turns out, it was being secretly organised for the prior four years. It seems certain that the party has benefited from Russian money and organisational help.

Anyone who doubts the Russian hand behind Zuma should look at Amandla.site123. (click here) This is not to be confused with, a rather dreary magazine of the South African left featuring the rather sad remnants of what was once “the progressive movement”. 

Amandla.site123 is full of furious attacks against Ramaphosa – one article insists he was paid a bribe of $500 million by the IMF, but the general theme is Zuma’s, viz. that Ramaphosa was bought lock, stock and barrel by CR17, the shadowy bunch of white businessmen who financed his presidential campaign, a group known as “Stellenbosch” for short. The site’s other staple theme is vehemently pro-Putin and pro-Russia stories – e.g. “The unceasing Western aggression in Ukraine leaves Russia no other option but to take Zelensky out” or “How the CIA started World War III in Ukraine”. 

An interesting theme in Amandla.site123 is the pronounced (and highly traditional) Russian anti-semitism, seen in such stories as “America’s Ashkenazi fake Jews have been developing bio weapons against Russia” or “Know your enemy, not all Jews are evil: Confessions of an ex-Luciferian Jew”, or again, “Ukraine: Either humanity neutralises the warmongering Ashkenazi fake Jews or perishes in World War III”. There is, indeed, a nineteenth century air to much of the anti-semitism, particularly its fascination with the Rothschilds. Thus “Big Biz and Hitler” – how the Rothschilds (who own 100% of the Western world’s corporate sector and banking system) made Adolf Hitler, supported him and later pretended to hate him”. Presumably this goes down well with pro-Hamas readers and Ronnie Kasrils, though it’s possible that Ronnie would be regarded as another “fake Jew”. Though “The mother of all problems in South Africa is a Zionist (fake) Jew”.

Apparently site123 has quite a readership among ANC cadres – it was an MK veteran who first pointed it out to me and he and his comrades were agog at many of the stories. There is certainly no shortage of local interest stories such as “Bill Gates is behind Eskom problems and food price hikes in South Africa. To kill Black people with hunger after the failure of his vaccination genocide” or “Ramaphosa’s abuse of Public Protector suggests he is here to implement the dictatorship of the apartheid government” or, again, “Free Jacob Zuma: A case to be opened against Ramaphosa for genocide, war crimes and violation of human rights”.

Amandla.site123, run from Johannesburg (where, by the way, Russia Today is now setting up its studios to broadcast to Africa), clearly has money. There is also Amandla TV and Amandla Radio, many articles are written in Zulu and there are coloured cartoons (e.g. of a woke US soldier putting on lipstick). Intriguingly, Amandla also has a branch entitled Nation of Christ/Opinions/Preachings. 

Clearly those behind this site would like to maximise the success of the MKP and perhaps see that party’s fusion with the ANC and Zuma’s re-ascent to influence or even power. As has been noted by Business Day, nothing is so strange as the ANC’s state of paralysis in the face of the MKP. Ramaphosa must know of Amandla.site123 and must realise that, for all his blandishments at BRICS, Putin is determined to overthrow him and replace him with a more reliably pro-Kremlin figure. But what of the rest of the ANC leadership ? No one has said a word about this treacherous anti-ANC interference in South Africa’s election by the Russians who were supposed to be their friends. Despite all the favours Putin owes them, for their backing over Ukraine, for the Lady R and so on. And this may not be the end of it. MKP leaders are threatening violence if they don’t achieve their election aims. If their ranks include some GRU hard men, as seems likely, that may not be an idle threat.

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