A diabolical pact

FOR months there has been mounting anger in all sectors of South African society about the downward spiral of Eskom, including from those who don’t pay for what it produces. A revolving door of loadshedding has played havoc with the economy and led to a real fear that the national grid will, literally, keel over. At that point the debate about whether or not South Africa is a failed state will be over. In a bizarre, and Byzantine, twist someone tried to poison the outgoing CEO by putting cyanide in his coffee.

Generating and distributing electricity is basically straightforward; even poorly developed countries do it. Yet for over fifteen years South Africa has performed more and more weakly at this essential task. Cadre deployment (jobs for pals in excess), rampant corruption, widespread looting, epic incompetence (design faults and breakdowns at brand-new power stations) and ideological rigidity (stubborn refusal to abandon failed energy policy) have led to this point of near-collapse. There is now evidence of sabotage with political purpose.

It takes no great stretch of the imagination to say this is almost certainly a result of ANC infighting and factionalism. The governing party’s failure is total. Yet this does not fit liberation theory, so even supposedly rational members of the government are now subscribing to conspiracy theory about subversion and attempts to overthrow it via blackouts. There is the suggestion that foreign agents and enemies of the state are behind it all; and accusations that opposition parties are hoping for more loadshedding in order to increase their chances at next year’s general election.

Behind this truly deranged dialogue two points stand out. The ANC seems totally to have forgotten who has been in charge of South Africa for the last three decades. And this all sounds very Soviet: enemies of the state; foreign agents; and, of course, the cyanide (although the Kremlin favours novichok). And as if on cue the Russians are here. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Pretoria on 23 January and his navy follows soon. Sponsoring incompetence in a state-owned enterprise is one thing; allying one’s country with war criminals altogether another.

Vladimir Putin’s government is quite open about its aims: first to destroy the independence and ambitions of the ‘inferior’ Slavs of Ukraine; and second to fatally undermine Western liberal democracy. The Kremlin is busy tearing up the rulebook of international law in favour of a coming age of barbarism. Putin’s ambitions are as transparent as were Hitler’s and we ignore them at our peril: dictators need to be taken seriously.

After an opening round that displayed stunning and predictable military incompetence last February, the Russians have settled into doing what they do superbly well: waging war on civilians and simply obliterating everything in their path (remember Chechnya and Syria?) Much of this is perpetrated by a mercenary group most of whose personnel are the scrapings of Russian prisons. And this massive crime against humanity, including the torture and murder of civilians and a multitude of lesser crimes, is blessed by the Orthodox Church, a prime breeding ground for Russian imperialism and nationalism. Several times Putin has threatened use of nuclear weapons, gestures that earned reprimands from China and India.

Yet on 24 February, the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, its warships (and those of China, which raises a different set of questions) will be cruising up and down the KwaZulu-Natal coast in the middle of ten days of military exercises named Mosi 2. Russia is the lead force, just as well because there is an element of farce in this. There is every indication that the South Africans will struggle to put any appreciable force out to sea. After all, the disgraceful arms deal of the late 1990s was not designed to equip South Africa militarily, but act as an opportunity for graft and satisfy ANC rent-seeking. Like almost everything else the ANC has touched in the last quarter century and more, the navy is in a state of decay. Time will tell but observers are speculating that the only local naval vessels participating will be an inshore defence vessel and a survey ship, both lightly armed.

Naledi Pandor, our foreign minister, insults us by talking about neutrality while participating in military exercises with war criminals whom she chooses to describe as friends. Her immediate reaction nearly a year ago was to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, but she was soon pandering to the party line of subservience to Moscow and thumbing a nose at the West and its liberal values. Now she is involved in a pact with the devil. The DA’s comment that the exercises are a publicity stunt is right ‒ and wrong. Publicity, yes, but for whom? Only those who support war criminals and their atrocities will be impressed.

So here are some questions for the moral degenerates that constitute the South African government. Are Ukrainians not permitted to seek their destiny in a state liberated from authoritarianism; or is that a right reserved for black South Africans? What useful military lessons are there to be learned from shelling old people in apartment blocks and the power plants that supply their electricity in winter, not to mention a nuclear facility (much of this has originated from the Black Sea fleet)? And is there approval of the neo-fascists in the Wagner Group who are also killing Africans in West and Central Africa? Is the ANC happy to be a lackey of Russian imperialism? Does it approve of using nuclear weapons as a threat against a peaceful neighbour?

Above all does it support the gross flouting of international law? The answers to these questions do indeed suggest that South Africa has joined the ranks of the barbaric. Lavrov and Pandor deserve each other; and the ANC has reached a new low. Or, alternatively, is this a state of mind that we have missed all these years; that the ANC admires Putin’s politics and would like South Africa to be a clone of Russia? It would explain much that is puzzling such as attacks on the constitution, the rule of law and liberal values.