War in Ukraine: Malema’s party in South Africa acts as Russia’s mouthpiece

By Romain Chanson
Posted on Monday, 21 March 2022 18:28

South Africa's Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, addresses his supporters, Johannesburg, 20 November 2018. © Wikus de Wet / AFP

As South Africa's political class remains divided over what to do about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party supports Vladimir Putin and relays Kremlin propaganda.

Instead of calling it a “war in Ukraine”, Floyd Shivambu, vice-president of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, has encouraged people to refer to it as a “necessary special military operation. There is nothing wrong with Russia preventing the imperialist expansion of Nato [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation],” he said during a debate on the Russian invasion in parliament.

According to him, Moscow has nothing to be ashamed of. Shivambu even praised the “degree of respect and honour” of the Russians, “who do not target civilians or civilian infrastructure.”

High praise indeed from South Africa.

Heavy artillery

The country’s third largest political force, the EFF has just concluded a media operation, one that can best be described as a love letter to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It involved a debate in parliament, a reception at the embassy and then a televised interview.

The red berets are distancing themselves from the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which continues to play a balancing act between remaining neutral and demonstrating loyalty towards the former Soviet ally. While the government demonstrates camaraderie by weighing up every word said about Moscow, the EFF pulls out all the stops and defends the Kremlin by making shocking statements.

Nato is supposedly being led by neo-Nazis, Kyev is commiting genocide in the Donbass and the US has laboratories in Ukraine where chemical weapons are being produced to attack the Russian population. The National Freedom Party (NFP) – which has two seats in parliament – is the only other small South African party that seems to believe these conspiracy theories and anti-US rhetoric. Furthermore, it denounces the “hidden agenda of the West”, which wants to “wipe Russia off the map.”

As for the ANC, the reasons behind the EFF’s support for Russia can be found by examining the past.

  • Both groups remember that the USSR provided logistical, financial and intellectual support when they were fighting against the segregationist regime. It is for this very reason that the EFF calls on “South Africans and the whole continent not to turn their backs on Russia”, which would “never have used and will never use its military strength and capacity to colonise the continent or other countries.”
  • This support is also a visceral rejection of the US, Nato and the West, accused of being warmongers, colonisers, imperialists and looters who will never be forgiven for “brother” Muammar Gaddafi’s assassination in Libya.
  • The EFF sees China, Cuba and Russia as progressive forces that need to be defended.

The pandemic was an opportunity for Julius Malema’s party to come to their rescue. In June, the EFF rallied several thousand people outside the South African Health Products Authority (SAHPRA) in the hopes of persuading it to approve the Russian vaccine Sputnik-V, as well as the Chinese and Cuban vaccines.

The EFF was also outraged when the Russia Today (RT) television channel was removed from the package offered by the South African distributor, an unintended ripple effect caused by EU sanctions.

“A classic example of imperialist aligned parties wanting a monopoly on what people think,” the group said in a statement. The EFF still has access to RT via Twitter and regularly shares its videos, such as this one with Sergei Lavrov. The Russian foreign affairs minister says that he feels Americans want to make the world “their village”, or even “their saloon.”

“It’s true, and it must not be allowed to happen,” said Shivambu, who now agrees with his distant Russian comrade on everything.

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