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SA regime change coming – but not from outside

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Last week, two senior African National Congress (ANC) leaders declared that South Africa might be punished for its outspoken foreign policy positions. Facing blowback after taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on genocide charges, this prompted both President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula to claim that outside powers were seeking “regime change” in the 2024 elections. Was this simply desperate electioneering, an undermining of democracy, or thinly veiled antisemitism, tapping into the ancient trope that Jews supposedly control the world?

Said Ramaphosa, “We’re aware that there will be systematic fightback campaigns. There will be no doubt that these forces will do anything in their power to prevent South Africa from concluding its case [at the ICJ] on the merits of the matter … The fightback may focus on domestic politics and our electoral outcomes in order to pursue a regime-change agenda.”

Mbalula parroted this warning a few days later, saying, “[We have] the proliferation of political parties in our country sponsored by certain interests out of the country, including with the interest of driving regime change … Those who are on the opposite side have undertaken steps, including using their powers economically and otherwise, to effect regime change.”

Professor Emeritus Milton Shain from the University of Cape Town said, “There are two ways of understanding the ANC’s explicit claim that South Africa [read the ANC] could soon be facing enemies who want regime change. The first is an old political ploy. Identify a hostile enemy, and corral your supporters into the laager against the putative challenge.

“BJ Vorster did it against Jimmy Carter in a general election decades ago. We could be seeing a rerun. The other way to understand the ‘regime-change’ warning is fear on the part of the ANC that awkward news will soon be breaking in which it will be shown that the ANC is close to Iran and Hamas, and has received secret funding from them to do their bidding at The Hague [at the ICJ]. Of late, there have been whispers in that direction. Either way, I don’t see this as antisemitism other than that Israel and the West are easy targets and the ANC has a longstanding hatred of Zionism.”

Disagreeing somewhat with Shain, Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation said, “One of the ANC’s objectives with the ICJ affair, besides delegitimising Israel’s right to self-defence and protecting Hamas, was to deflect attention from the ANC’s significant domestic failures. With poor polling projections, Ramaphosa and others in the ANC have resorted to classic antisemitic propaganda. They claim that the Jewish state – and by implicit association Jews who support it – is working towards ‘regime change’ because the ANC’s actions at the ICJ have created ‘powerful enemies’.” Polovin claims the ANC narrative is a continuation of antisemitic smears about alleged Jewish power from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion through to modern conspiracy theories about clandestine Zionist financial control of the world. “The ANC’s anti-democratic and antisemitic tactics should be widely condemned,” he said.

Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “This is absolutely conspiratorial and patently absurd. Statements like this are threats to our democracy, whoever they may be directed at.”

Dr Greg Mills, who heads the Brenthurst Foundation, a Johannesburg-based think tank, said, “It’s not unusual for foreign affairs to be used as a distraction for domestic policy. Karl Marx wrote of Louis Napoleon in the Crimean War that the emperor ‘has no alternative left but revolution at home or war abroad’. Or as the Russian minister of the interior said after the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, ‘We need a little, victorious war to stem [the tide of] revolution.’ Success might have helped in these adventures, but instead their failure portended even greater breakdown.

“South Africa is clearly using the ICJ to shine its radical credentials ahead of the election,” Mills said. “Pointing a finger now at outside powers trying to remove the ANC is both part of that well-rehearsed victimhood and also a way of explaining why the ANC might do badly, or even a precursor to explaining why it has declared the election unfree and unfair. That might be coming next.

“As for the specific allegations, one has to assess the capability as well as the probability of this intervention by outsiders. While Israeli cyber experts have sometimes been accused of helping African authoritarians stay in power, this has never extended to the Israeli state. Certainly, the country possesses a powerful technology sector, but does it have the intent to do so? It’s interesting that South Africa has never mentioned the role of outside powers when the ANC’s authoritarian allies have gerrymandered elections to stay in power elsewhere. But it suits it now.”

Dr Frans Cronje of the Social Research Foundation said, “There’s regime change coming to South Africa, but it’s not driven by the Americans, who don’t look forward to the instability that may follow the ANC’s defeat, or by the Israeli government which, if anything, will simply cut the country off if diplomatic relations fail to improve. Regime change will instead be driven by South Africans themselves – mostly black and poor and mostly former ANC supporters who are dismayed at the depravity with which their party has behaved in government and how that party has betrayed them. [Recent polls] indicate that the ANC may lose its national majority in a few months’ time, and that it will certainly lose the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces by landslides. By the end of this decade, given current trends, the ANC’s support may slip to well below 30% of which most will be concentrated in the rural north.

“What you’re witnessing therefore is the desperation of [Ramaphosa] coming to terms with the realisation he has failed and it’s now over for him and his party.”

Photo credit: Credit MyANC Facebook Page

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