International media coverage suggests it might be naïve to think Russia is not interfering in South Africa’s elections. Russia is accused of stirring across the globe. Why would we be left out?
Time Magazine’s April 15 print edition cover story is, “Russia’s Other Plot”, sub-titled, “Vladimir Putin wants to influence more than elections …”
The magazine says Russia is “actively undermining democratic institutions by meddling in elections and stoking national tensions. At the same time, it is exerting power in countries that have grievances against Western nations, by offering military resources and training, business alliance, financial aid and political propaganda”.
EIN News and DW.com report that European Union security services are monitoring Russian attempts to interfere in next month’s European Union parliamentary elections. German news agency DPA says Russia’s efforts are aimed at boosting parties that are either Eurosceptic or friendly to Russia.
Russia has dismissed these allegations. In a statement to DPA, the Russian foreign ministry said it was not interfering in the EU elections and was not planning to interfere in other elections.
EIN News says in the run-up to 2017 French presidential elections, the right-wing populist, pro-Russian candidate Marine Le Pen received Russian financial support.
Time Magazine says Russian trolls used fake Twitter accounts to influence Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote. It also says Russian “propaganda on social media stoked divisions among Americans and helped elect (Donald) Trump”.
In Africa, Time lists eight countries targeted by Russia: Sudan, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Central African Republic (CAR), and South Africa. Indeed, on Monday Putin signed a decree authorising the despatch of military personnel to the CAR. Russian mercenaries are in Sudan.
If Russia were to favour any political group in South Africa, it would likely be the Jacob Zuma faction of the ANC. Both Zuma and current deputy president David Mabuza visited Russia for health reasons. David Mahlobo, who was state security minister and then energy minister under Zuma, also had dealings in Russia.
Ace Magashule of Gangster State fame has a more tenuous link. His connections with China are stronger. Yet, at the 2018 funeral of his ally Sandile Msibi, Magashule announced he had tried to get the man to Russia for treatment for poisoning.
If Time is correct, and Russia is indeed meddling in elections, one purpose in South Africa might be to reinstate the lucrative nuclear power deal, which President Cyril Ramaphosa has deemed unaffordable.
But Russia’s energy industry is not limited to nuclear power. And the state energy company Rosatom remains active here. In 2018 Rosatom signed an agreement with the SA government to construct small hydropower plants in Mpumalanga, Mabuza’s home turf. Rosatom offers nuclear energy research scholarships for African students.
And then there’s speculation about funding for radical SA splinter parties who have cash to splash. From Russia with love? Surely not.