TANKIES are leftists who defend Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, but who are otherwise opposed to the use of tanks to resolve disputes. It is a term derived from an earlier generation of Western leftists who backed the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 — and who also defend Russia’s behavior today. It may applied to any situation of paradoxism in political outlook involving the use of state force, such as invasions, pre-emptive strikes and the like.
The ANC’s Cameron Dugmore best epitomises South Africa’s tankie left. In 1987 as UCT SRC president, he appeared on a combined ECC – IDF platform alongside then SAUJS President, Johnathan Handler. It was the first of a large group of 23 objectors, which included Christian pacifists, Jewish and also Atheist objectors
Handler opposed the use of SADF tanks in the townships, but paradoxically supported the IDF and its war in Lebanon. It was the 1982 invasion of Southern Lebanon under direction of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon which had lead me to a path of opposition to the use of force by the State of Israel. Of course, I naively assumed at the time, there were parallels between the SADF war in Angola and what was happening in the Middle East (you can read my response to Seth Rogen here).
This week at a combined Russian and South African gathering, hastily called to celebrate apparently ’30 years of solidarity’. Dugmore took issue with the Democratic Alliance (DA) for wanting to light up Cape Town’s public buildings in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. He also attacked what he claimed was the parties ‘refusal to debate issues to do with Palestine’.
That Dugmore shares the Russian autocrats homophobic and misogynistic worldview is not that surprising given Palestinian opposition to LGBTIQ+ rights, and the Tankie left should pause to consider that Putin is admired by Republicans on the far-right, and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish.
Russia proceeded to bomb a well-known Holocaust war-memorial yesterday, commemorating Babi Yar, a site where some 150 000 Jewish Ukrainians were massacred.
Many on twitter were quick to point out that Ukraine had also been a part of the USSR, and if anything, South Africa owes the country a debt of gratitude for its support of the anti-apartheid movement.
South Africa itself has ties with the Russian people and the former Soviet Union going back over 70 years and to World War 2 where it fought alongside the allies. The attempt to recast Putin as a contemporary savior figure has been condemned as nothing short of foolish nostalgia, the result of the ANC’s moral agnosticism.
Naledi Pandor for example was quick to jump on the ‘unconscionable racism’ experienced by many Africans attempting to flee Ukraine under martial law amidst unavoidable restrictions on travel — nothing less than ‘supporting evidence’ for Putin’s claim that he was ‘denazifying the country by invading’. (read my previous open letter to the Minister)
Poland for example has a 1 in 10 policy, only letting in 1 Foreigner for every 10 Ukrainian women and children. Africans fared a lot better at the Hungarian border, where unlike Poland, there were no far-right groups objecting to their presence.
Meanwhile a Russian millionaire offered a $1 million bounty for the arrest of Putin, stating: “As an ethnic Russian and a Russia citizen, I see it as my moral duty to facilitate the denazification of Russia. I will continue my assistance to Ukraine in its heroic efforts to withstand the onslaught of Putin’s Orda.”
And by that he means to De-Putinise Russia.
Though our own country is a partner in BRICS, (an economic block dreamt up by economists, in the same vein as FAANG, a Wall St acronym), there is little to be gained by equivocating on the issue. The government has been taken to task for being on the ‘side of the oppressor’.
The much-vaunted BRICS bank is bound to come under pressure from economic sanctions, even China has baulked at the prospect of a financial fall-out from Putin’s war, bearing in mind that the Chinese economy has just experienced a major event in the managed deflation of a stupendous property bubble.
President Xi Jinping can ill-afford to bankroll his neighbours war adventure in the Ukraine, and neither is South Africa able to afford the luxury to go it alone so far as international sanctions and pressure on Putin is concerned, –our own sovereign debt and junk rating, must rank high on the agenda of our finance minister.
South Africa chose to abstain from a UN General Assembly vote this week, condemning the Russian invasion. Pretoria may live to regret its lack of action.