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