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Digging ever deeper: ANC visits Moscow to meet its new BFF — Putin’s United Russia party

Digging ever deeper: ANC visits Moscow to meet its new BFF  — Putin’s United Russia party
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) during an official welcoming ceremonyat the Russia-Africa Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia on 23 October 2019. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergei Chirikov / Pool)

The ANC seems to have newly rediscovered its ‘long-standing’ relationship with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.

The ANC visited Moscow this weekend to meet its “long-standing ally and friend”, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party (URP), even though the relations between the two parties seem rather skimpy.

This excursion seemed to be more about demonstrating solidarity with the increasingly isolated Putin regime than about anything the two parties may have in common. It looked like yet another instance of the ANC’s “nostalgia” for a very different Russia than the one that supported the ANC’s armed struggle until the late 1980s.

South Africa’s ruling party seems to have rediscovered – or perhaps reinvented – this “long-standing” friendship with the URP when Putin ordered Russia’s military to invade Ukraine on 24 February last year.

Since then, the ANC seems to have found it convenient to conflate the URP with the Soviet Union Communist Party, which was the organisation that supported the ANC. It stopped its support even before the USSR disintegrated in 1991.

Apart from little interparty contact, the URP also seems to share little political ideology with the ANC. The URP is generally regarded as a “conservative” party and has established ties with several far right-wing populist political parties, including the Alternative for Germany and the Austrian Freedom Party.

It has also signed cooperation agreements with international leftwing parties – including the ANC in 2013.

The driving motive of the URP’s international political alliances, especially in Europe, seems to be supporting opposition to the prevailing liberal order, whether from the right or the left.

The October 2013 cooperation agreement between the ANC and the URP seems to have been inspired by South Africa joining BRICS in 2011 and hosting the BRICS summit earlier in 2013. 

Yet this agreement seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Former ANC and SA Communist Party (SACP) member and now activist and academic Raymond Suttner told Daily Maverick: “I know of no relationship between the ANC or SACP with this party [URP] – certainly not [one that is] ‘long-standing’.

“I have not been a member of either organisation since 2006 and I have not been in leadership since the late 1990s, but as far as I am aware the only relationship that was long-standing was with the former CPUSSR [Communist Party of the USSR].” 

Suttner added that perhaps the ANC had had relations with the Russian Communist Party, which emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Russia expert Irina Filatova, professor emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said there had been some interparty relations and visits between the ANC and URP “but, of course, the war has given new impetus to these bilateral relations”.

As far as shared ideology between the ANC and URP was concerned, Suttner said: “It is my view that the ANC is now de-ideologised… I do not know why the war should have drawn them together as it has.”

Global order

The one ideology that is clearly binding the ANC and the URP is a desire for the “recalibration of the global order to reverse the consequences of neocolonialism and the previously prevailing unipolar [ie US-dominated] world”, which the ANC said was to be the main topic of discussion between the two parties in Moscow this weekend.

ANC national spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri announced that the party was visiting Russia at the invitation of the URP, “Russia’s largest political party and a long-standing ally and friend to the ANC”.

Led by ANC International Relations Subcommittee Deputy Chairperson Obed Bapela, the delegation included Deputy Minister of International Relations Alvin Botes.

Filatova said Russia’s war against Ukraine had concentrated Russia’s mind on South Africa in view of the “recalibration” of the global world order because of SA’s weight on the continent and its resources.

“As for the ANC, it must be rejoicing at the attempted recreation, as it were, of the ‘international meetings of communist and workers’ parties’, which took place in the 1960s to discuss the ideological agenda of these parties in the decolonising world.”

It is clear, then, that the meeting between the ANC and the URP has much less to do with old friendships and much more to do with growing ANC solidarity with Russia since its attack on Ukraine isolated it from the West and other parts of the world.

Warming relations

The weekend interparty meeting was the latest in an apparently accelerating series of contacts between Russia and South Africa since the war began.

In August, Defence Minister Thandi Modise attended the high-level Moscow security conference where Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu hailed the invasion of Ukraine as ending the “unipolar world order”.

In February, South Africa, Russia and China held joint maritime exercises off the coast of KwaZulu-Natal. In March, Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and National Council of Provinces Chairperson Amos Masondo led a multiparty South African delegation to a parliamentary conference in Moscow organised by the Russian Duma, themed “Russia-Africa in a Multipolar World”.

A few other parties participated, but the Democratic Alliance and IFP did not.

Mapisa-Nqakula took the opportunity in the Duma to say that South Africa would continue to support Russia and look to it for economic support.

“We will continue to lean on you, and you can rest assured that, as a country and as a people of South Africa, we will continue to support the people of Russia,” she said.

In August, South Africa is scheduled to host the BRICS summit for the third time. Great uncertainty about the event has arisen since the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for the arrest of Putin in March for complicity in the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.

As a member of the ICC, South Africa could be obliged to arrest Putin, which has raised doubts that he will visit South Africa.

Going against SA society

Dzvinka Kachur, honorary president of the Ukraine Association in South Africa, told Daily Maverick: “The ANC is going to visit United Russia, a party that has complete control over the parliament and the government in Russia.

“This political party supported the deportation of over 19,000 of Ukrainian children from their families to Russia, and is linked to 69,000 documented war crimes.

“The chairman of the party, Dmitry Medvedev, openly threatens the world with nuclear weapons and calls for genocide of Ukrainians. Our interactions with South Africans suggest that people do not support kidnapping children, violation of human rights, or invasion of other countries.

“According to the Brenthurst Foundation survey, 74% of South Africans condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine. We would like to understand the ANC’s reasons to cooperate with such a party that seems to go against the opinion of the South African society as whole.” 

DA international relations spokesperson Darren Bergman said: “The ANC are playing Russian roulette with our economy and the future stability of our country that has just been greylisted and is suffering debilitating load shedding.

“The last thing it should be doing is trying to poke bears which could provoke unfavourable trade tariffs or even frostier measures.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Anyone who thinks that ANC decisions do, or will ever, bear any vague resemblance to sensible needs their head read. ANC=Arrogant Non Compos-mentis.

  • Pet Bug says:

    Very good article.
    The only purpose of URP is the political support for Putin. The party has no guiding ideology, except maybe a nostalgia for tzarist and UdSSR pomp and imperialism.
    ANC is being played as pawns. However, it’s not there to play with.
    And is another slippery slope of the ANC madness as it loses relevance.

  • Mike Waghorn says:

    “We will continue to lean on you, and you can rest assured that, as a country and as a people of South Africa, we will continue to support the people of Russia,” ….#notinmyname

  • jennifer slutzkin says:

    I feel saddened and ashamed of my country knowing they are supporting this war monger and criminal. Stop living in the past ANC . Putin is a lunatic and we should be condemning him not having parties with him. He will bring no good to SA. We will be ostracized just as in the old days but for different reasons . Shame on you !

  • William Kelly says:

    Follow the money. Russia promises more in bribes and access to laundering it than anyone else. And no annoying free press to expose it all.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The visit to Russia and the meeting with the URP is going to send very ominous signals of Russian interference in the South African elections in various ways. It is very significant that it is the governing party that has visited Russia as that country has been looking for political outcomes in various elections that favour it by either getting its cyber attacks of the systems of elections or funding its political parties they consider to be allies. The political funding law prohibits foreign funding of political parties contesting political elections. We have been found by the FATF as a money laundering haven. The alternatives for Russian interference in our elections are many including cash that is not declared like by the fellow who bought buffaloes in Phala Phala that SARS has no trace of declaration. The potential for criminality is big in this area. The other alternative is to fund th quacks of the SACP who are not contesting the elections or any associate body of the ANC. The other alternative is to use the oligarchs involved in the manganese mining. This with the cyber attacks on our system and fake news on various Russian platforms that use the internet.
    It is important that we guard against Russian thuggery in our elections who would want to see the outcomes favour those who support Russian aggression in Ukraine under the guise of neutrality. The invitation to Putin is a violation of our laws as accession to the Rome Statute means that its is now part of our law.

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