South Africa's ruling ANC party has brushed aside criticism of a large donation it accepted from a mining company linked to a Russian oligarch under U.S. sanctions.
Viktor Vekselberg is an investor in United Manganese of Kalahari Ltd, which last year donated $826,000 to help fund the ANC's electoral conference. Critics say the donation undermines the party's claim to a "neutral stance" on the Ukraine war and its refusal to criticize Russia's invasion.
The donation, worth 15 million rand in the local currency, was made public recently when South Africa’s electoral commission released a statement detailing funds received by political parties in the third quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.
Asked by VOA whether a donation by a company linked to a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin affected the ruling party’s stance on the war in Ukraine, spokeswoman Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri demurred.
“The ANC receives both solicited and unsolicited financial support from various parties from all over the world,” she said by text message. “Some get accepted and others returned if found not to be aligned to the ANC's values and policies. This current support will be looked at in the same light.
“The ANC's stance on Russia-Ukraine conflict will remain the same. We do not believe that anything progressive can come out of conflict and war. We still urge all parties to meet and find amicable solutions.”
Solly Malatsi, national spokesman for the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, criticized the donation.
“This explains what the ANC government’s approach to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is because it’s on the receiving end of millions of rands in donations from Russian oligarchs,” Malatsi said. “It flies in the face of South Africa’s quest for and respect for human rights as the light that guides our foreign policy.”
The money went toward the ANC’s December electoral conference in which President Cyril Ramaphosa was given a second term. There had been problems in funding for the event, with the heavily indebted party battling to meet its costs.
United Manganese of Kalahari, Ltd., or UMK, is a South African company that mines the metal crucial to the production of iron ore.
One of the shareholders is the ANC’s funding front Chancellor House, according to investigative reports in South African media, while a Vekselberg-linked company owns another share of less than 50% – effectively allowing UMK to avoid U.S. sanctions.
The Russian businessman, who is reportedly close to the Kremlin, was on U.S. sanctions lists even before the invasion of Ukraine last year. After the war started, his luxury yacht was seized by the U.S. government and his U.S. properties searched by the FBI.
South Africa, which has a history of close ties with Russia, has abstained from condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine at the U.N.
The donation raises questions about Pretoria’s political stance on the Russia-Ukraine war, said Steven Gruzd, a Russia expert at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
“Viktor Vekselberg has been linked to the ANC before; this is not the first time his name has come up, and this is a sizeable donation to a very cash-strapped political party,” Gruzd said.
“They’re trying to spin it that this is a regular donation, a run of the mill contribution to a political party among many others, and that they will screen it to see that it’s in line with their values.”
Last month, South Africa hosted the Chinese and Russian navies for joint military exercises off its east coast, despite the concerns of the United States and European Union.
In August, Putin is expected to visit South Africa for the annual summit of BRICS – a group of emerging economies made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.