The Republic of South Africa is one of the most economically developed states of the “black continent”. The specificity of the economic and geographical position of South Africa also determines the significant role the republic plays in international trade. Its state of affairs automatically affects the overall health of the South African region. It is not surprising that the leading world powers are striving to enhance partnerships with official Pretoria. However, some states are also trying to interfere in the internal affairs of South Africa, effectively undermining the republic’s sovereignty. First of all, it concerns the United States. The US system of grants is its most distinctive feature, it is with its help that the US is gradually reformatting the internal political field of South Africa to its own advantage. It is crucial to highlight that these are not grants allocated to the fight against AIDS or poaching, but funds allocated to work with political and public organizations. The money is directed both to projects closely related to South Africa and to regional programs covering the South African region as a whole.
For instance, in 2018, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) allocated a total of $600,000 to “strengthen the institution of political parties” in South Africa. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) received $300,000 to work with liberal and center-left parties. Another $300,000 was allocated to the International Republican Institute (IRI), which specializes in working with conservative parties. (Both organizations are recognized as “undesirable” in Russia because of intrusion attempts in the domestic policymaking of the Russian Federation). Various conferences, workshops and seminars were held under such grants, with the audience being formed of the political party leaders. They were not only trained in new organizational methodologies, but also provided technical support in managing electoral monitoring. They were trained to conduct electoral reforms, “aimed at leveling the playing field of political competition.” The latter is hard to interpret otherwise than the intention to challenge the dominance of the current ruling parties at the expense of scrapping the existing system of organizing elections. In the course of the grant, the “training networks” for the party members have also been launched.
Furthermore, $200,000 was allocated under a grant, with its official purpose being to “improve local self-government” directly in South Africa. It is IRI that again serves as the project operator. A significant part of grant funds is allocated for conducting research “in the field” to assess the situation in specific municipalities. The latter involves collecting data on local and regional conflicts, relationships within local elites, protest movements, etc. Thus, the grant outcome should be the emergence of a detailed data bank that is to become a solid foundation for political decision-making with regard to South Africa. Therefore, one can easily simulate both the effects of economic sanctions against South Africa and manage a “color revolution” in this state based solely on the information obtained.
Significant funds are allocated to the “soft power” of the United States in South Africa, creating an attractive image of the United States in the eyes of the local population. For example, in 2019, a proposal was published to prepare a museum exhibition titled “The Role of America in the Fight Against Apartheid”. $300,000 was allocated to implement the respective grant program. This project is intended to “balance” the views of South African citizens on the US role in the fight against the apartheid regime. It is necessary to clarify though that many of the South Africans clearly recall how Ronald Reagan vetoed the Congress resolution on the sanctions against the racist regime in South Africa. Equally, the economic and military assistance by the US administration of Peter Willem Both, who was appreciated in Washington as an ardent anti-communist, whereas his racist stance and Afrikaner nationalism was not deliberately noticed. Speaking in 1986 before the US Congress, South African human rights activist Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu described Washington’s foreign policy towards South Africa just as an abomination. Thus, Americans have a good reason to invest and transform the memories carried by South Africans.
In 2018 $30,000 was allocated to create a network of student activists in 12 countries in Southern Africa. It was mainly allocated to a series of seminars and forums for student activists and public opinion leaders. These activities comprised preparing future leaders of the regional network of student activists and defining common tactics to solve its long-term objectives.
The US embassy’s Small Grants program also serves to promote American interests in South Africa (the amount of assistance ranges from $1,000 to $24,000). One of its main areas is to promotion the “democratic agenda”: freedom of speech and the media, encouraging electorate to vote, ensuring transparency of decisions taken by the government. All in all, such initiatives indeed are worthy of support. Nevertheless, practice shows that the US authorities interpret the concepts of “democracy” and “human rights” rather “specifically” when it comes to events outside the United States. The ample evidence of this is the current situation in Ukraine. (It is interesting to note the Euromaidan TV channel Hromadske TV was created specifically with the grant from the US Embassy).
Thus, the diverse grant system allows the United States to quietly reformat the party field of Southern African states, including South Africa, in their own best interest. At the same time, the work is in progress to form local political elites and create public organizations loyal to Washington. Projects are being implemented to form a positive, in part even the Messianic image of the United States in the public consciousness. Information is also actively collected on the state of affairs within the country, including the one on internal conflicts at the local and regional levels. Cumulatively, these facts indicate both tangible US interference in South African domestic policy and Washington’s readiness to expand its scope.
Nikolay Ponomarev – Leading Analyst, Foundation for the Protection of National Values