Senior officials from South Africa’s ruling party are suggesting that US diplomats are grooming young people to engineer Arab-Spring-style regime change in the country.
“We are aware of the meetings taking place regularly at the American embassy,” Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the African National Congress (ANC) said last Friday (Feb. 19) at a rally in Pretoria attended by 87,000 people, by the party’s count. “Those meetings in the American embassy are about nothing else other than mobilization for regime change.”
Mantashe went on to suggest that the embassy has been recruiting and sending young South Africans to the US for six-week trainings, after which they ”plant them everywhere, in the campuses and everywhere” to foment anarchy in the country.
On Sunday, the party’s spokesman repeated the charge and demanded an explanation from the US embassy. “There seems to be irregular activities coming from the US Embassy,” Keith Khoza told the Associated Press. He added that the ANC will express its concerns directly to Washington about the issue.
But Patrick Gaspard, the US ambassador to South Africa, took to Twitter to refute the accusations, pointing out that the program the ANC officials were referring to was the The Mandela Washington Fellowship, an initiative launched in 2014 by US president Barack Obama to provide leadership training to young African leaders.
“It ain’t a secret,” Gaspard said, suggesting that Mantashe in particular should know better.
The ANC has had a difficult few months. Students have demonstrated against proposed university fee hikes, and president Jacob Zuma’s missteps—including changing his finance minister twice in the space of a week—almost caused the country’s economy to collapse, and inspired calls for his resignation.
Public trust in the government, and politicians in general, has plummeted. Zuma’s approval ratings have fallen to 36%, according to a poll conducted by the research firm Afrobarometer in November of last year. The same poll also revealed something troubling for the ANC as the party in government—only 39% of South Africans approve of local officials.
As the party heads towards local elections scheduled for later this year, the rhetoric by its officials aimed at the US may just be the party’s way of deflecting attention from its own troubles, some analysts are suggesting.
“The ANC are experts at saying one thing while selling something else,” Richard Poplack wrote in the Daily Maverick, a local news site.