Feeble Smear Campaign Against Brenthurst Foundation has Troubling Dimensions

Disinformation standards have fallen. These days, Russia and its friends (sadly, South Africa is among them) lazily use hackers, bots and subsidised ‘voices’ emerging from the great froth of online publications that have been invented to fight the bad fight.

8 May 2023 ·   4 min read

Feeble Smear Campaign Against Brenthurst Foundation has Troubling Dimensions

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone in the legacy Eastern Bloc would take offence at the many articles and videos published by The Brenthurst Foundation critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But when the response came it was somewhat disappointing. Disinformation used to be an art form in the old Soviet Union. The East German secret police, the sinister Stasi, even coined a word to describe the indirect forms of intimidation, surveillance and control it developed and pursued: Zersetzung.

This literally translates as “decomposition” — a continual harassment aimed at damaging the reputations and relationships of their subjects, causing them to lose the will to continue with their activities. Bugging, mysterious phone calls, wiretapping, sabotage of cars, openly filming the subject, break-ins, provocation and smear campaigns were among the methods employed, all of which could be plausibly denied, today as then.

Standards have fallen. These days, Russia and its friends (sadly, South Africa is among them) lazily use hackers, bots and subsidised “voices” emerging from the great froth of online publications that have been invented to fight the bad fight.

A typical example of this is the tremendous interest in The Brenthurst Foundation shown by a website belonging to something called the “Pan African Institute for Socialism”.

It claims to have unearthed a dastardly plot in an article bearing the title “Correspondence reveals Mills, Brkic, Oppenheimers as US propagandists”. The article, in good Soviet tradition, has no author.

The last time this “Institute” took a shot at The Brenthurst Foundation, it was supposedly the spider at the centre of a giant web of intrigue. According to that article, “the capture of South African ‘independent’ media involves an opaque network of funders, editors, and publications, facilitated by US State Department actors.” It’s hard work “capturing” the media, but sadly, The Brenthurst Foundation can’t claim the credit.

Curiously for an organisation so obsessed with the origins of funding, the funders of the “Pan African Institute for Socialism” have not been made known. Your guess is as good as ours.

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That earlier article did, at least, credit an author — one Phillip Dexter, a member of the ANC until he left for Cope, and a member of the SACP until he fell out with them. He has apparently since fallen out with Cope and at last mention (admittedly after a lazy trawl through Wikipedia) was back with the ANC. That could, of course, have changed by now, although party membership is probably necessary if you want to enjoy the decidedly capitalist benefits that come with chairing a failing state-owned enterprise.

Global arms trade

Because Dexter is also the chairperson of the board of Armscor, presumably the “Pan African Institute for the Advancement of Socialism”, unlike most of its ultra-left peers, is comfortable with the profits that accrue from the global arms trade. Perhaps Dexter will shortly reveal exactly what happened at the Simon’s Town docks when a Russian munitions transporter loaded and offloaded cargo last year.

But back to the latest attempt to smear The Brenthurst Foundation and, in this case, Daily Maverick, which is part of the annoying “independent media” that is to blame for South Africa’s evils.

The article claims that it is “revealing” that The Brenthurst Foundation’s Dr Greg Mills wrote a letter to the minister of defence of Ukraine requesting an interview. In a letter, which the “Institute” has obtained (more on that later), “Mills goes on to describe how the Brenthurst Foundation, established by South African oligarchs, the Oppenheimer family, has published over thirty op-eds and five videos as pro-Nato propaganda”.

The “Institute” is also in possession of a second letter. This is authored by Branko Brkic, the editor of Daily Maverick, in which he confirms that Mills is a regular contributor to that publication.

It is true that many of The Brenthurst Foundation’s articles are critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. No reasonable person who has visited Ukraine, walked its cratered streets, witnessed its destroyed homes and apartments, seen the bloody streets of Bucha or spoken to those left behind by the violence, would take a different view.

The Brenthurst Foundation has visited and conducted fieldwork in Ukraine and the region six times since the Russian invasion on 24 February last year. Understanding and analysing a major global conflict like this is important for serious policy work. And it is true, also, that these articles examine the possible implications of Russia’s actions and South African support thereof, including the loss of trading preferences, investment and jobs, concerns that are apparently not shared by advocates for pan-African socialism.

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But the “Pan African Institute for the Advancement of Socialism” would have us believe that such empathy is merely “pro-Nato propaganda” even if Nato is barely mentioned.

In this passionless, pathological worldview, a show of empathy or of sympathy is totally unacceptable. Russia is always and can only be right, and the evidence to the contrary is to be ignored, diminished or distorted. Persons who dare to challenge this orthodoxy must be subjected to character assassination.

As to the “revelation” that Mills is recognised as a correspondent by Daily Maverick, the refutation is simple: This can be discerned from his byline appearing on articles he has written which Daily Maverick has published. Those same articles all make a point of telling the reader that Mills is with The Brenthurst Foundation, and a web address is given for those who would like to know more about the author.

While the “revelations” of the correspondence are laughable, there are very troubling dimensions. In true amateur fashion, the copies of the letters published by the “Institute” bear a watermark which reads BEREGINI, betraying their malign source.

Beregini is the Lithuanian word for “forget it” or “secret”. It is also the name of a covert hacking outfit controlled by Russia.

Beregini is described as “a rising star in Russia’s disinformation game” by the anti-hacking organisation Active Fence. “The objectives of these attacks appear to be to sow discord in Ukraine, present the Ukrainian military as inept and weak, portray Ukraine as a puppet of Western regimes against Russia, and shift the blame of psychological warfare to Ukraine.” Strange that. Sounds like the same mission the “Pan African Institute for Socialism” is relentlessly pursuing.

So what we have here is an organisation with which the chairperson of Armscor, Phillip Dexter, is closely associated (he is one of three faces of the organisation on its website) publishing an assault on writing critical of Russia using documents obtained illegally and supplied by, at best, a pro-Russia hacking outfit, at worst, some shadowy state agency within or without South Africa. Now there’s a conspiracy worth investigating.

This article originally appeared on Daily Maverick.