JOHANNESBURG - The spokesman of South Africa’s ruling party has accused the U.S. government of trying to “undermine the (country’s) democratically elected government” - though representatives from both governments dismissed the claims and say their relationship is strong.
African National Congress spokesman Zizi Kodwa’s comments follow a story in the British Sunday Times that said the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency helped South Africa’s apartheid government arrest Nelson Mandela in 1962.
That report quotes a now-dead retired CIA agent who said the U.S. saw Mandela as a communist sympathizer.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to the racist apartheid regime. He was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, after the fall of apartheid, and upon his death in 2013 was mourned across South Africa and the world as a champion for peace and equality.
Kodwa said the CIA allegation is "a serious indictment" - and that the intelligence agency is still operating in South Africa.
"We have recently observed that there are efforts to undermine the democratically elected ANC government," he said in local media. "They never stopped operating here.… It is still happening now - the CIA is still collaborating with those who want regime change."
Kodwa did not respond to numerous calls from VOA seeking comment on Monday.
‘Those are not our views’
But South Africa’s Foreign Ministry was quick to dismiss his comments.
“Those are not our views as government,” spokesman Clayson Monyela told VOA. “From government’s point of view, our relations with the United States are strong, they’re warm, and cordial,” he said.
The two nations are also major trading partners, with trade totaling about $21 billion, according to U.S. government figures. However, that relationship was threatened late last year when the two governments nearly failed to resolve outstanding trade issues. The situation prompted President Barack Obama to threaten to suspend South Africa’s membership in a lucrative U.S. trade agreement that allowed the country to export goods duty free.
And the two nations have also traded barbs.
In February, the secretary-general of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, also accused the U.S. government of pushing regime change, saying: “We are aware of the meetings taking place regularly in the American embassy. These meetings in the embassy are about nothing else other than mobilization for regime change.”
At the time, U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Patrick Gaspard laughed off the allegations, taking to Twitter to joke that "I always imagined that if I organized a coup it would look like Mardi Gras -- food, music, dance."
This time around, no one is laughing in Pretoria.
“South Africa is a strategic partner and friend of the United States,” U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Cindy Harvey said in a statement sent to VOA. “The United States does not regard the democratically elected government of South Africa, and its strong democratic institutions, as a ‘regime.’ Claims that we seek to undermine South African democracy run contrary to the spirit of the proud and longstanding relationship we have with South Africa.”
Harvey said the U.S. Embassy has no information on alleged CIA operations in South Africa in the 1960s.
Back in the present day, both diplomats said their governments are committed to a strong relationship, though political watchers say that these harsh words may one day have real diplomatic consequences.
Political columnist Ranjeni Munusamy noted that the longtime politician is up for the coveted spot of ANC deputy president. Because of the ANC’s lock on power in South Africa’s parliamentary system, the ANC president and deputy president usually end up as national leaders.
“Who knows,” she mused, “where his ambitions might lead him after that and whether at some point, he might be directing South Africa’s foreign policy?”