The Red Peril

Henry

“The Red Peril!”

“Total attack!”

He roared with laughter and threw his hands in the air.

“That’s the kind of propaganda that the then South African government and the local media spread about us.”

Dr. Vyacheslav (Slava) Tetekin tells how he and Ambassador Grogoriyevich Vassili Solodovnikov first visited South Africa together in 1990. They were invited by dr. From Zyl Slabbert of Indasa. They wanted to determine how the ties that existed between the communist Soviet Union and South Africa’s liberation movements, such as the ANC, could be renewed in the Russian federation.

The two served in the top management of the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee. Solodovnikov was the driving force behind the committee. He was particularly concerned with supporting liberation movements across Africa with humanitarian aid. For example, ANC members received 150 scholarships per year. At that time, however, Solodovnikov was seen as the devil himself who conspired to turn South Africa into an oppressive communist state.

On voting day 29 May, just as I was walking out of the polling station, a man stopped me. He says he wants to introduce me to someone. He leads me to the ANC’s tent. There I meet Slava (as he is known in the street). He greets me enthusiastically like an old acquaintance. He tells how surprised they were, that despite the fierce propaganda against them here at the time, I still conducted an interview with the two of them.

It then got a bit busy in the tent and I just said goodbye. Later in the day I blame myself for not taking his contact details because I would have liked to chat longer. But how would one get the details of a man who would fly back to Moscow within a day or so.

I then remember Ronnie Kasrils, a former ANC cabinet member who was also an executive member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He also underwent military training in the former Soviet Union. Maybe he will be able to help.

I write him an e-mail and ask if he knows the man Slava? Yes, he writes back, it’s a friend of his. He sends me an e-mail address of Slava and a letter to Slava with the request to get in touch with me. Soon we made an appointment to meet at his hotel in Sandton.

I start the interview at the election. I ask him: “What is your reaction to the performance of the ANC, the freedom movement that you have supported for so long, but which has now received somewhat of a beating?”.

“Well,” he replied, “every person goes through phases. You are young and doing well. Then you get sick and need to be treated. It’s a process. You need to get medicine. What is important then is that you determine the right medicine and use it. I am sure the ANC will do introspection and come out on top again.”

“What was he doing at the ANC’s tent on voting day,” I wanted to know.

He enthusiastically tells how he was officially registered as an international observer by the Election Commission (EC) in 1994. It was an experience for him. With this year’s election, an error crept into his registration process and he was not registered. This means he is only a personal observer with no official status. He is quite upset about the matter.

Still, he is sure the election was free and fair. A calm atmosphere prevailed at the polling stations. People, white and black, stood in peace in long lines patiently waiting to vote. It was exceptional, he thinks.

He is less positive about the politics in his country. Although Russia is no longer a communist state, there is still a Communist Party (CP), of which he is a member. The CP has about 20% of the seats in the parliament or Duma.

He is very critical of Russia’s political system. It’s not socialism, but it’s not capitalism either. He calls it chronic capitalism – an economy that is constantly sick. According to him, in 1985 the Soviet Union was one of the strongest industrial countries in the world. Reform was poorly managed first by President Michail Gorbachev and then by Boris Yeltsin. Large enterprises were given to cadres without knowing anything about management. Corruption thrived.

Slava believes that the current sanctions against Russia are to be welcomed, as they stimulate local industries again. According to him, Russia will have a growth rate of more than 3% this year. He does struggle with the poverty of some 20 million people. He has a lot to say about the war in Ukraine, but I stay out of it, because it is clearly a highly emotional, complicated and controversial subject. The Russian Communist Party supports the war. Slava accuses the West of an anaconda strategy towards Russia – where it is slowly but surely trying to strangle it to death.

But politics aside. On a human level, it is a pleasure to interact with the Russians. My family and I experienced this ourselves when we went on holiday in Russia about four years ago. Today we know nothing came of the red peril or the total onslaught. At the end of the day, we are all people with the same needs and problems, regardless of ideology.

Coffee with Slava was excellent and informative.