In the wake of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that there is a plausibility of genocide being committed by Israel in Gaza, it is worth looking into how the propaganda narrative in the mainstream media is shifting against The Republic of South Africa, and how the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party in particular, came under increasing scrutiny after it brought the court case against Israel. South Africa will have its 6th democratic elections in May 2024, and it’s my suspicion that Washington, local actors, or the Israeli lobby, will most likely try and use propaganda to intervene in the next election with the purpose of “punishing” the ANC for “bad behaviour”.

South Africa’s political scene

Opinion polls, to the extent that they are reliable, had indicated (prior to the ICJ event) a decline in ANC support among the general population. For the first time since the end of Apartheid, ANC support might dip below 50% in the upcoming election. The strongest loss is due to the resurgence of Zulu nationalism in the KwaZulu-Natal Province — that was only temporarily suppressed when Jacob Zuma, an ethnic Zulu, was President. Zulu nationalism is under-appreciated by outside observers to South Africa, but its strength is easily proven by the mere fact that not even Nelson Mandela won the Natal Province in the 1994 general elections. There are already breakaway factions within the ANC, such as the newly formed MK Party, which emerged from the former Zuma faction.

In contrast, the current President Cyril Ramaphosa is from a much smaller Venda tribe. He cannot rely on ethnic support and came to power only due to the financial assistance of South Africa’s oligarchs (which include his brother in law, Patrice Motsepe, whose company, African Rainbow Minerals, is heavily tied to the Davos clique at the World Economic Forum). Ramaphosa in 2017 was endorsed by prominent members of South Africa’s Jewish Community, to the extend that several opponents accused him of being “in the pocket of the Jews.”.

South Africa’s ANC and Ramaphosa’s faction in particular, therefore, put itself in an extremely vulnerable position when it decided to take Israel to the ICJ, by making itself vulnerable to propaganda attacks, and a potential loss of financing from sectors of the business community, who Ramaphosa notably approached for campaign donations before the last general election. Today Ramaphosa is being accused of betraying South Africa’s Jewish Community and “accepting money from Iran”.

The Iranian Narrative

The media narrative shift became apparent during South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor’s recent visit to Washington D.C when at an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace titled “Are South Africa-U.S. Relations at a Turning Point”, she was questioned on South Africa’s disagreements with the United States on Israel.

One revealing question was posed to her regarding the decision by the BRICS economic bloc to include four authoritarian governments — Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. She was asked to address the “democratic legitimacy” of these governments, with a particular emphasis placed on Iran due to it being “an authoritarian regime”. Pandor’s response was that “I don’t know whether they are an authoritarian regime, but I know that woman … ”. Before she could continue her sentence that presumably expressed disapproval at Iran’s treatment of women, as she later confirmed in the conversation, she was interrupted. As is custom when the USA officials designate “enemy states”, her former statement was repeated across the media echo chamber, but the latter only mentioned in the text.

In discussions about Middle Eastern affairs, it’s not uncommon for US government officials to selectively focus on Iran, a recognized ‘enemy state.’ However, what’s noteworthy is that there is a recent attempt to portray the South African government as if it acted on behalf of Iran when it took Israel to the ICJ.

Skeptics should ask, why would Iran be pinpointed as the reason behind South Africa’s decision to go to the ICJ? The facts that Iran would have an interest don’t even properly align from the get-go, because Iranian-Hamas relations are often strained, and Iran’s political factions hold differing views on Hamas. Moreover, Iran might not have had anything to do with the attacks, because as an Israeli Defense Force spokesperson acknowledged shortly after the October 7th attacks, Iranian officials were surprised by Hamas’s involvement. Furthermore, the majority of Hamas’s funding came from Qatar, a US-Israeli ally, and it is worth noting that it was the Israeli Mossad that gave Hamas angel financing, because, as per the admission of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019, Israel wanted to prop up an uncompromising enemy so that they could delay negotiations with the Palestinians.

Iranian Finances

The purported Iranian involvement in funding the ANC’s election fills a speculative gap in the South African news cycle. This void emerges from the financial desperation faced by the ANC political party on the 4th of December 2023 when the Johannesburg Sheriff confiscated some of their assets due to the non-payment of staff and service providers. Due to corruption and maladministration at home, the ANC government became increasingly unpopular and subsequently many campaign financiers started to ditch the ruling party.

Two months prior to the confiscation, the ANC foreign minister went to Iran to discuss the issue of the Palestinians. Then, in early 2024, the party’s financial outlook would seem to have improved under the leadership of the new ANC treasurer Gwen Ramagkopa who claimed to have applied stricter financial rules. The story that there was strained financing does hold some validity, as multiple ANC members have verified to me the party’s financial difficulties, exemplified by their inability to afford campaign posters, in rural areas in particular. Incidentally, instructions distributed through WhatsApp groups directed only strategic placement on lamp posts, a prevalent practice in South Africa’s rural villages with staunch traditional ANC backing.

However, the implication of the SA-Iran story is that Iran filled the gap in the ANC’s finances and therefore is also involved in intervening in South Africa’s elections. It’s not clear how the Iranian-South African story started, but it was spread, for example, by people prominent in the local South African Media, such as Dr. Frans Cronje of the Social Research Foundation, and was also repeated on local outlets such as Biznews, Politicsweb and several others. It was also repeated, rather unsurprisingly, by the South African Jewish Association and several advocates that are affiliated with them. The claim was further refined by the SA Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein who singled out South African corporations for doing business “with Iran”. Notably, companies include the telecommunications company MTN and South African banks such as Standard Bank, Netbank or ABSA.

The MTN story is filled with half truths, because there has been a past history of MTN bribing its way into Iran, with the former South African ambassador being arrested for fraud in 2019. But why would this story be considered new or relevant to the ICJ case brought against Israel, and what is the evidence that the money is currently being used for the ANC’s election campaign?

Rabbi Goldstein and AIPAC

Goldstein escalated the rhetoric further during his visit to AIPAC, the Israeli Lobby in the United States of America. Goldstein asserts that the South African Government served as the “diplomatic proxy” of Iran. According to him, while Hamas fights Israel “with guns and bombs”, the South African Government fights with “words and arguments to delegitimate Israel”. Goldstein views the “diplomatic war of delegitimising” as ultimately “the most serious national security threat facing Israel”, and he even called for international finance to look into how South African banks have been doing business in Iran — presumably in violation of the US led international sanctions.

The refrain was again repeated internationally by authors such as The Spectator commentator Douglas Murray in the Jerusalem Post when he wrote that:

“Clearly, they have been promised money by Iran, which is why your foreign minister traveled there straight after 7 October,”

But as the journalist Rebecca Davis wrote in the Daily Maverick, the allegation that South Africa received money from Iran, is difficult to investigate because of the lack of transparency in South Africa’s election financing rules.

“The reason this claim is difficult to conclusively fact-check is because we don’t have access to the ANC’s balance sheets, so there’s no way of categorically refuting the idea that the party has just received a massive donation from Iran.”

If investigating the claim proves challenging, how do those who propagate it claim to possess evidence? Moreover, with current sanctions restricting Iran’s access to the SWIFT financing mechanism, and locked out of international finance, how would they transfer money to South Africa?

As is customary with such claims, no documentation, money transfers, or compelling evidence has been provided. It’s true that South Africa’s MTN conducts business in Iran and has historically supported the ANC, but it also operates across the Middle East and throughout much of Africa. The current South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is an oligarch who has notably been a board chair of MTN, because he benefited from South Africa’s lucrative rent-seeking “black economic empowerment” deals.

Yet, despite these occurrences, it’s important to investigate whether the ANC supporters actually support Iran and what their actual opinion is about Israel and the Palestinians.

South African Public Opinion

The SA Iranian story and its various offshoots neglect an obvious fact about the African National Congress, which is that they have always been outspoken against Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Nelson Mandela, shortly after he came to Power, notably said that “But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. Further sympathy was expressed by various other former liberation fighters such as Archbishop Desmund Tutu when he said: “’I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t!’.

Even though Goldstein used Nelson Mandela in his presentation to AIPAC, he falls back on “censorship by omission” and asserts that the majority of South Africans reject the ANCs stance on Palestine. This is absurd, because the pro Palestine position is not just a pro ANC position. Regular critiques of the ANC (that are known to a South African audience, but unknown internationally), such as Max Du Preez and Lord Peter Hain, came out with strong statements against Israel. Hain notably explained The South African Government’s position by drawing on the geopolitical double standards when the Global North showed sympathy for Ukrainian self-determination.

“Decent South Africans of all races and creeds are contemptuous of what they see as profound double standards by global north leaders — wanting backing for Ukrainian self-determination but being complicit in the denial of Palestinian self-determination and culpable in the horror in Gaza. The geopolitical breach with the global south is deepening and will cost Washington, London and Brussels dearly in an increasingly turbulent world” – Peter Hain

Further sympathy was shown by union members, a traditionally strong voting block within South Africa. The National Union of Mine Workers, for example, openly lobbied the South African government to put diplomatic pressure on Israel. Various other factions within the ANC and other political parties in South Africa have expressed similar sentiments, including the South African Communist Party, the ANCs Women League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. In fact, even the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition party, whose support base and financiers are split on Israeli, axed a prominent member of parliament for putting their party in a difficult position.

South Africa, additionally, has a relatively influential Muslim Minority of which Minister Naledi Pandor is an Islamic convert. It’s also noteworthy that the local South African Muslim minority has previously taken strong stances on similar issues such as when they criticized songs like the EFF’s Julius Malema’s rendition of the contentious “shoot the boer song” for its quasi genocidal undertones, inviting Afrikaner activists into programs such as RadioIslam and SalaaMedia. Goldstein showed Malema’s expressing a hateful chant towards Israel in his presentation to AIPAC, but again, neglects the fact that South Africa’s Muslims have been criticizing him for expressing similar language at home!

The best source to evaluate the ANC’s rank and file members’ position is its weekly newspaper which reveals much of the thinking of its local constituents who voluntarily run its circulation. The publication on 2 February 2024 confirms that shortly after South Africa approached the ICJ, there was ecstatic support for the government’s decisions to assist the Palestinians, with even a poem being included on page 44 that read:

“They must not be alone please they must not be alone

The people of Palestine

Palestine must not be alone”

Iranian money obviously couldn’t have paid for all of this.

Furthermore, there is profound sympathy for the Palestinians not only in South Africa but also across the broader Southern African Region. For example, prior to his passing, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob openly condemned Germany for supporting what he described as the ‘equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza.’ It is noteworthy that Namibia has a unique history as the only African country to have experienced three distinct forms of colonialism: British Imperialism, Afrikaner Nationalism (Apartheid), and German Imperialism. The latter involved a genocide perpetrated by Germany during the Second Reich, where notably Eugene Fischer, Joseph Mengele’s mentor, laid the intellectual foundations for the Holocaust.

Did Iran bribe their way into Namibia as well,or is sympathy born out of a comparable historical experience a better explanation for taking Israel to the ICJ?

In Conclusion

This article examined South Africa’s political scene and the potential narratives that local politicians, as well as external actors like the USA, will use to exert influence. Among these narratives, the alleged Iranian bribe story garners the most attention, especially among those who find it challenging to understand the widespread disapproval in South Africa of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

There are other false narratives and allegations that are also being recited such as “the fact” that South Africa had an alleged nuclear deal with Russia in 2016, or that the newly formed MK party is “paid by Russia”. The latter story was notably spread in a Biznews interview by Andre Pienaar, a South African born US military Intelligence contractor who sits on the NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council. The Russian claim was again repeated by the Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister of international affairs — who was recently invited to the Munich Security Conference. As with the Iranian story, plausible links to Russia do exist, but no concrete evidence is provided.

Then on March 17th 2024, there was a significant development as the USA made a provocative move by sending its first-ever military delegation to the landlocked country of Lesotho. Lesotho is crucial for South Africa’s cooperation, particularly in the context of the Highlands Water Project that provides most of Johannesburg’s Water. There are also other signs of US intervention, such as the June 2023 “anti-authoritarian conference” held in Gdańsk, Poland, ostensibly aimed at “Rolling Back Authoritarianism.” Hosted by the Brenthurst Foundation, the conference included invitees from South Africa’s opposition parties and shady individuals like Almquist Knopf, Greg Mills, and J. Brooks Spector that are all deeply connected to the US Department of Defense and known for their involvement in notable regime change operations across the continent.

One has to ask what Washington is trying to attempt by inviting the opposition party representatives to NATO funded conferences, and hinting at threatening South Africa’s water security, but that would be obvious for anyone who knows anything about the US’s history in trying to restore order in its “client states”.

It’s questionable however, given the various factions within South African politics, and the absurdity of many of these stories, if it is even possible for them to get any traction. One cannot (yet) conclude that there is a definite attempt to make another “coloured revolution” in South Africa, because even the ANC government is not a neutral and innocent actor on domestic matters in particular. Ramaphosa has already started to leverage the narrative of “outside pressure” as the reason for the decline in his votes, as opposed to reflecting on its own failures in government such as an inability to resolve the ongoing electricity crisis.

The Iranian bribe story and several other narratives are taking place against the backdrop of the next South African general elections and it’s worth saying the obvious, that there is a clear attempt by local and foreign actors to use propaganda to shape current events.

(Featured Image: “14 11 2019 Encontro com o Presidente da República da África do Sul. (49066142278)” by Palácio do Planalto from Brasilia, Brasil is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)


  • Hügo Krüger

    Hügo Krüger is a Structural/Nuclear Engineer with working experience in a variety of energy related projects ranging from nuclear, oil and gas industry to renewable energy. Hügo is also a writer and YouTube podcaster, commenting and interviewing guests on a variety of topics relating to Engineering, Energy, Climate, Propaganda, and Geopolitical Matters. His writing has appeared on a variety of outlets including Biznews, Spiked, Rapport, Rational Standard, Quillette and New Geography.

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