Johannesburg - And so, the SAA Airbus returned to OR Tambo, with its John Wick manifest of bodyguards and a handful of hacks who’d gone to cover President Cyril Ramaphosa’s peace mission to Ukraine and Russia. The aircraft eventually got as far Poland, being grounded in Warsaw where it remained, until the talks were over and it flew back.
Ironically, Ramaphosa managed to get to Kyiv and then to St Petersburg where, by most accounts, he was resolute and unequivocal with President Vladimir Putin. But who knows? Putin apparently ordered the live feed stopped just after Cyril the Meek made his opening remarks.
The ongoing war won’t be stopped overnight – and the African bid is just one of many, including the Vatican, that are trying to get the two countries to the table to start speaking. History reminds us though that everyone said the same about ending apartheid in South Africa. In the end it was a host of different events and initiatives, in which the non-aligned African states played quite a considerable role in breaking the impasse.
The biggest lessons for Ramaphosa, who wasn’t stuck on a stationary aircraft with rapidly filling chemical toilets for more than 26 hours, will have been salutary. Notwithstanding his own access to generators and load-shedding exemptions, it will have been interesting for him to learn that a country in the grip of a vicious war and subject to almost daily artillery and rocket barrages actually has electricity.
It would have been novel for him to ride on a train from one country into another – apparently the only safe way to Kyiv from Poland – on infrastructure that has withstood 15 months of war when Transnet has been rendered almost wholly dysfunctional under almost 30 years of the ANC and entire rail networks have been destroyed and/or built over.
Perhaps the most significant lesson would have been that he was safe in two capitals of countries at war, while his 120 protectors were stuck back in a third country, along with 13 crates of unspecified arms and material that spooked the Poles.
What was in those crates? We’ll probably never know, just as we won’t know what was loaded onto Lady R or if the US faked the moon landings on Area 51. We won’t know either why the President has put his safety in the hands of Wally Rhoode. Nominally a major general in the police, Rhoode never served as a police officer. It’s a bit like appointing a fan of Masterchef as the executive chef of a five-star hotel, when the only culinary skill they’ve mastered is the TV remote.
Rhoode appears to have been the architect of last week’s VIP protection shambles, ignoring advice from professionals in the Department of Defence and Dirco. In a way it’s not that surprising, not if you look at how he handled the Phala Phala scandal. That was obviously just a taster of things to come. The mind boggles about what the President’s “protector” could achieve on his next attempt.