US-South Africa Watch

ANC’s bizarre criticism of US programme baffling

Gwede Mantashe
Gwede Mantashe.jpg

In yet another attack on the US, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe bizarrely accused them of fostering “regime-change” in South Africa.  

During a recent ANC organised “anti-racism” rally, Mantashe claimed that the United States was seeking to advance an ‘Arab Spring’ agenda through clandestine meetings and was operating a programme taking young people to the US for six weeks, and then “plants them everywhere, in the campuses and everywhere to foment unrest when they return”.

The ANC is aware of the regular meetings at the US embassy, which are about nothing else other than mobilisation for regime change, he said.

Odd accusation

The oddity of the accusation is that he seemingly referred to the Mandela-Washington Fellowship Programme (MWF) or the Young African Leader Initiative (YALI), placing young leaders from 55 African countries at some of the best universities in the US to study select courses in public and civic leadership, business and entrepreneurship. 

In the past young ANC members participated freely in the programme and according to the US ambassador in South Africa, Patrick Gaspard, he personally had asked Mantashe to recommend young ANC leaders for the programme.

By Mantashe’s logic any ANC members who have participated in the programme are potential “regime change” agents for the US.

He is obviously also contradicting President Jacob Zuma, whose office on 7 August 2014, after his return from an African summit organised by US President Obama, in a statement said: “The president also welcomed the Mandela Washington Leadership youth initiative established by President Obama.”

Well-known journalist Peter Fabricius asks the question, “So if Mantashe is right that this is actually a regime change initiative, should we assume Zuma is part of the dastardly plot to remove the ANC – and himself – from power?”

He concludes, “It’s hard to imagine how YALI could be promoting ‘regime change’ unless of course Mantashe is implying that learning to respect good governance, proper public management and the right civic values would automatically turn these people against his party”.


However, in response to the criticism and widespread nonplussed reaction to the accusation, the ANC hastily regrouped to limit the damage by claiming that the “US coup threat is not a joke”.

 “We will elevate this matter to a formal level, “… and the ANC will formally raise concerns with the US over the meetings at the American embassy in Pretoria …”

As Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo also gave his “informed” assessment with an own peculiar take on the dangers of attempts at unconstitutional regime change in South Africa.

According to him, “changing a government by unconstitutional means took different forms and could be done by individuals using various mechanisms, such as the media”.

Unfortunately, he did not elaborate or give any examples of where and how in the world the media orchestrated “unconstitutional regime change”. He did, however, give the assurance that there is no reason for panic, because “we are always alert. If anyone seeks to undermine South Africa, we will be able to follow you”.

To confirm government’s alertness, he also disclosed that “concerns had already been raised with the US over its Young African Leaders Initiative student exchange programme”.

Against this revelation it is safe to assume that the same has been done regarding the large number of similar exchange programmes on offer from other Western governments to South African citizens.  

The wackiest comment, however, belongs to Environment Minister Edna Molewa, who “wondered” at an inter-ministerial briefing “why a member of the diplomatic corps had not already driven over to the ANC’s headquarters, Luthuli House, to talk about the issue”.

The Americans could, with justification, “wonder” why they should do what the minister was pondering.

Paranoia and insecurity are clearly clouding the judgement of some high-ranking ANC officials.

Other examples

Consider the following ludicrous accusations previously made by senior ANC officials and politicians, none of which has yet been proved to carry any shred of truth:  

  • Some years back, amid widespread criticism of the arms deal, a prominent cabinet minister justified the purchase of submarines “to ensure South Africa could fend off an American amphibious assault on the isolated East Cape sea coast”;
  • Accusations on a suspect mysterious website, Africa Intelligence Leaks, that the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, Economic Freedom Fighters leader, Julius Malema, former Democratic parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Joseph Mathunjwa, leader of the more militant trade union AMCU, were CIA agents;
  • Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe accusing Madonsela of being a “CIA agent”; and
  • More recently the Right2Know (R2K) movement accused of spying for a foreign government.

As reported previously, it has become almost standard ANC government strategy, when in trouble divert attention by making outlandish accusations. This might be another case (there are many reasons for trying to divert attention). And it has become custom to brand the USA and the CIA as the culprit – the “Great Satan” to borrow from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.

This might just be another case.

No joke

What is not funny are the possible negative consequences of these unsubstantiated allegations.

It would be naïve and short-sighted to deny the potential negative consequences for SA-US relations. The last round of the AGOA negotiations, by all accounts, was extremely tough – the attitude of the ruling party towards the US might just have contributed to this.

Ambassador Gaspard’s first reaction to the Mantashe claims speaks volumes. Poking fun at the allegation, he tweeted:

“I’m so disappointed as I always imagined that if I organised a coup it would look like Mardi Gras – food, music, dance.”

After Deputy Defence Minister Maphatsoe’s claim about Madonsela’s CIA connections, he responded that the claim would be treated as a “joke in any serious nation”.

The ANC feels differently.

Unperturbed, ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza responded to the US ambassador’s reaction that such tweets would not deter the ANC from taking the issue seriously: “We will raise our concerns as a country whether they make a joke of it or not. If they (the US) had a concern and raised it with us, we wouldn’t treat it as a joke.”

There was, however, also a hint of irritation and frustration in one of Gaspard’s follow-up tweets: “I wish that someone would invite me to these meetings”, And in a more serious vein: “Let’s not blame others for our own challenges.”

He also said that he would “fiercely defend” his staff against any suggestion that they were plotting against the ANC, continuing: “I'm incredibly proud of the work my US embassy colleagues do every day to partner with South Africans on health, education and job growth and I will fiercely defend their honour and non-partisan integrity.”

Best response

The best answer to Mantashe’s ranting lies in a letter written to the media by a former beneficiary of the MWF program.

Hlanganani Gumi wrote: “The MWF is the kind of programme and opportunities that we as young people welcome in South Africa. Instead of wanting control and power over the programme, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe should welcome more programmes such as these that equip intelligent, passionate and hard-working young people to get ahead in the competitive global world. Not only should it be welcomed from as many countries as possible, but from the government, private companies, civil organisations and even political parties who can invest in creating such opportunities.”

Mantashe’s comments completely underestimates the intelligence of many of our own young people, suggesting they can be used so easily. It shows a disregard for the opportunities they get.

We need more opportunities such as the MWF, so young people can fulfil their dreams. It’s about the next generation of young African leaders

by Garth Cilliers

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