ANDRÉ PIENAAR spoke about the future of international security alliances when he addressed young American diplomats at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC last week. These are some of his thoughts and he also writes on the Guptas’ real role in state capture, Jacob Zuma’s links with the Kremlin and how the Russian/South African nuclear deal was scuppered.

INTERNATIONAL security alliances have a new lease on life because of Russia’s war of aggression on the Ukraine.

NATO now includes new members, Sweden and Finland. The alliance has proven to be resolute in support of the defence of Ukrainian democracy.

Closer to home, the members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are rallying to fight an extremist Islamist insurgency in Mozambique.

Alliances do not only involve hard power. In September the Commonwealth, an alliance of 56 democracies, came together to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s life of service. The funeral was watched by 5,6 billion people worldwide – more people watched her funeral in 2022 than those who were alive when she became queen in 1952. It was a unique moment of soft power for what many thought was a frayed and faded alliance.

Democracies take longer to commit to alliances because of the need to build internal consensus. However, once a democracy commits, they tend to be in it for the long haul. This gives the democracies an incredible advantage in geopolitics.

South Africa as a democracy has membership of several alliances – the Commonwealth, the UN, the Africa Union (AU), and BRICS to name a few. During Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s presidencies, South Africa was a vibrant member of these alliances.

With leadership, South Africa often played a leading role to shape and influence them.

Strength of SA’s relationships

When as a young lawyer I advised President Mandela and then President Mbeki on the formation of the Directorate for Special Operations (DSO) or the Scorpions as a new anti-corruption unit for South Africa, I witnessed first-hand, the strength of South Africa’s relationships at the time.

President Mandela persuaded US President Bill Clinton in a fifteen-minute phone call in 1997 to accept the first intake of 50 young black graduates into the Scorpions to become the first foreign students to complete the full FBI training course at Quantico.

Later, when President Mbeki rallied an international coalition to help end the Great War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Scorpions were able to work closely with international law enforcement partners to disrupt the illicit organised crime syndicates like Billy Rautenbach’s that were perpetuating this awful war for financial gain.

One case involved a Kinshasa-based group of Russian fighter pilots that were funded with conflict diamonds to bomb villages across the DRC by dropping munitions from Antonov planes, leading to terrible civilian casualties.

However, in recent years the most impactful alliances for South Africa have often been built by ordinary citizens. During Zuma’s two terms of State Capture it was courageous, ordinary citizens and civil society that built international alliances and networks that disrupted the Guptas’ international organised crime syndicate.

Many South Africans still do not understand the grave danger that the Gupta family’s sprawling international money laundering network spanning 18 countries posed to the country’s national security.

The ostensible middleman corruption that many people believed was the extent of the Guptas’ illicit business in South Africa does not require the capture of a state.

Only the most dangerous global narcotics crime syndicates have the ambition, the necessity, and the means to take a whole state of South Africa’s size hostage.

Drug smuggling

The Guptas were the growing regional branch of one of the world’s largest drug syndicates responsible for smuggling hundreds of millions of dollars of drugs from Asia through Africa to the US and Europe.

The ultimate goal was the capture of South Africa’s Reserve Bank and to convert it into the ultimate money laundering platform. The disruption of this global crime syndicate was an extraordinary victory for ordinary South Africans and civil society.

In late 2016 Lord Robin Renwick, the former British ambassador to South Africa, asked to meet me urgently in Geneva, Switzerland, for dinner with well-known South African business leaders.

Renwick, who kept close ties with South Africa, wanted me to help coordinate international support for South Africa’s civil society’s resistance against state capture. With the help of some of the world’s top cybersecurity professionals, we quickly discovered that vast quantities of open-source information leaked from the Guptas’ IT infrastructure that had been previously hacked repeatedly by another international crime syndicate.

The rival syndicate was publishing the Guptas’ information on the dark web. The collation of this leaked information became known as part of the Gupta leaks that gave South African investigative journalists the edge.

The Financial Times and The Economist stepped forward and carried the local investigative reporting of the Guptas by journalists like Peter Bruce, Jacques Pauw and Stefaans Brümmer, globally.

Bill Browder, the anti-corruption activist who created the Magnitsky Act to help prevent corruption globally, gave me advice and moral support in the background. In 2019 the Guptas were sanctioned by both the US and the UK governments under the Magnitsky Act.


The world greatly admires the courage with which the Ukrainians are now fighting against Russia’s aggression for the freedom of their country and for their children’s future. Ordinary South Africans have already shown equal courage when they rallied to block Putin from selling a useless Soviet-era nuclear reactor to South Africa for more than $80 billion.

This was the biggest and most corrupt deal that Putin had anywhere in the world. The corrupt profits were 13 times the real cost of the project.

The deal was the top priority of the Russian state-owned nuclear company, Rosatom, that dominates the nuclear industry globally by controlling 40% of the supply chain.

Rosatom is supported by the GRU, Russia’s ruthless military intelligence organisation. The GRU Unit 29155 is tasked by Putin with assassinations and cyberattacks worldwide. They work hand in glove with the Wagner Group, Russia’s private military company, that has operations across Africa.

The GRU had a secret edge in South Africa because they have a longstanding clandestine relationship with Zuma dating back to his time in exile. Zuma’s old GRU handlers were brought out of retirement to whisk him to the Kremlin to have numerous meetings with Putin and Alexei Likhachev, Director General of Rosatom and former senior GRU officer.

The combination of the citizen activists who spoke up, a successful coalition of opposition parties that asked questions in Parliament, and fearless investigative journalists stopped Putin’s war machine in its tracks in South Africa.

In April 2017, a courageous judge in a Western Cape High Court ruled that the 2014 agreement between Zuma and Putin was unlawful.

To support this alliance internationally, I closely worked with the Carnegie Foundation and United States European Command to raise international awareness that Russia was developing a new predatory policy in Africa. The Carnegie Foundation as a result published a comprehensive report

This report is studied by many countries across the world today as the best case study of civil resistance against Putin’s war machine.

As Max du Preez often writes, the future of South Africa lies with “we, the people”. South Africa’s people have defeated two of the biggest threats to national and international security – international organised crime and Putin’s war machine. Great things are possible for the future.

Full Article: Vrye Weekblad