Is this what YOU really want, South Africa?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and then South African President Jacob Zuma attend a news conference after their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Krasnodar region, Russia, on 16 May 2013. (Photo: EPA / MAXIM SHIPENKOV / POOL)

In South Africa, the loudest voices supporting Russia’s invasion have been the usual suspects, mostly from the RET faction of the ANC. What strikes me is just how self-serving their support is and how politically advantageous it is for their immediate goals of taking control of the ANC and South Africa.

Before I start, my heart bleeds not only for the suffering people of Ukraine, but for the people of Russia, who are now back in the dark space we all wanted to forget. Nowhere in the world will one find people as talented, brave, educated and soulful as one finds in Russia and Ukraine. What is happening is a tear in the Slavic soul that will not be healed for decades to come.

Now, back to the South African space.

Our globe’s political spectrum of late has been dramatically reshaped around a few hot-button topics. Sometimes even transcending traditional political and party structures, these issues are used to define one’s position (and opposition) and to create a new war zone, achieve political standing, gain social currency for many a frustrated loser while marshalling forces hitherto unseen. These issues have the power to force cultural, political and ideological litmus tests. These acid/alkaline tests are wedges, like anti-vax vs pro-vax; politically correct liberalism vs wild libertarianism; pro- and anti-Bill Gates (or George Soros); and, of late, probably the most deadly of them all, Vladimir Putin – the sinner or a saint.

While the former issues can be seen as superfluous enough to be eaten by the march of time, the issue of Putin and the apparent danger of driving a near-permanent wedge between societies, communities and social strata, and friends/family/countrymen, is something to which we must pay serious attention.

In my original homeland of Serbia, the still-palpable anger against Nato’s 79 days of bombing in 1999 that ruined the country and killed more than 5,000 people is redirected into support for Putin by many. They love the fact that the Slavic nuclear superpower is threatening the US from the point of “Got brass in pocket… I’m gonna use it”, even as they agree that the suffering of another Slavic nation is uncalled for. Serbia did vote for the UN resolution condemning the invasion, the one SA abstained from, but some local media outlets are amplifying a lot of Russian war propaganda.

In South Africa, the loudest voices supporting Russia’s invasion have been the usual suspects, mostly from the RET faction of the ANC. What strikes me is just how self-serving their support is, and how politically advantageous it is for their immediate goals of taking control of the ANC and South Africa.

While cities and villages are being shattered, thousands killed, infrastructure destroyed and with millions of refugees pouring out of Ukraine, they are still calling Putin a man of peace, a comrade. (The SACP has even insisted this is all Western propaganda.)

How neatly they all evade the real questions that must be asked. Their support for Putin follows the grievance book that was so well used by populists like Trump and his autocratic followers around the world over the past decade. These “warriors” remain in the haze of “values” and “endangered freedoms”. But one needs to ask the local autocratic chapter about what they are for instead of what they are against, and these questions must be precise and straightforward. So, let me try:

Dear Mr Zuma & Co,

Let me list some of the items Putin and his government can put on their CVs. They have, among many things:

  • Decimated Russia’s democratic society.
  • Made a mockery of elections and accountability.
  • Created one of the world’s most unequal societies through never-before-heard levels of corruption.
  • Militarised the country through years of propaganda.
  • Spread that propaganda through media that has been brought under their full and total control.
  • Based Russia’s future on oil, gas and other fossil fuels in a time of global climate emergency.
  • Essentially gifted the country’s economy to a few fee-paying oligarchs, ensuring that it cannot grow through entrepreneurship and have no chance of being competitive.
  • Fought six bloody wars (Chechnya 2000, Georgia 2008, Syria 2012, Crimea, Donbas 2014-2022, Ukraine 2022).
  • Fought the same wars by laying waste to everything before them – the corruption has robbed the Russian army of the capability to conduct modern precision warfare.
  • Sprayed Wagner mercenaries across Africa and the Middle East, in service of the nastiest, murderous regimes.
  • Presided over a state-sponsored global network of cybercriminals, bullies and propagandists who are responsible for most of the hate on social networks.
  • Helped fan the flames of reactionary racism from Europe to Africa, from the Americas to Asia.
  • Killed and maimed political opponents and activists in other countries in total disregard of international law.
  • Engaged in a planetary-reckless war in Ukraine against the state that did not endanger Russia in any way while being begged by the whole world not to do it.
  • Brought in laws that punish telling the truth by up to 15 years in a penal colony.

So, let’s try asking Mr Zuma and his troops these specific questions, even if they are just a subset of ways Putin’s government betrayed its own people. The questions are simple:

  • Are you okay with all of this?
  • Is this what you’d want for South Africa too?

Sad to say, their honest response would almost certainly be “affirmative”. They do support Putin, even when faced with clear examples of his failure to serve his own nation. Simply, Mr Putin voices their post-ideological governing philosophy the best. They do not support democracy – they support their own rule.

It is now on us to ask you:

Is this what YOU really want, SouthAfrica? DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Spar, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

  • Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted