/ 23 June 2023

Cyril flies the peace flag but the Chopin Contingent gets grounded

Ukrainian President Zelensky Meets With African Leaders In Kyiv
Straight talk: Cyril Ramaphosa (right) and other African leaders told both sides in Ukraine to end the conflict urgently. Photo: Yan Dobronosov/Getty


Like the majority of my fellow South Africans, I’m enjoying, albeit with great suspicion, the sudden improvement in the state electricity utility’s ability to provide us with power.

It’s been something like four days since ward 33 was last load-shed during waking hours, something of a record for uninterrupted electricity in the area since the end of last year.

Load-shedding will, unfortunately, resume in lower Glenwood by Thursday, but it’s been something of a pleasure — a treat actually — having a close-to-normal supply of electricity for a few days.

It’s as if I’ve taken a trip to another country.

The head of state, Cyril Ramaphosa, appears to also be enjoying the additional electricity  that Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramakgopa has delivered — seemingly out of the ether — in recent weeks.

“For once, Ramaphosa was able to complete a trip without having to rush home to deal with a renewed move to stage six load-shedding.”

I was sceptical about Ramakgopa’s national tour approach at first — word had it he was even meeting Thabo Bester in his consultations — but the handshakes appear to be translating into megawatts, and breathing space for el presidente.

For once, Ramaphosa was able to complete a trip abroad without having to rush home to deal with a renewed move to stage six of load-shedding and stem the wave of outrage from the punters he left behind in Mzansi to eat their half cooked dinner in the dark.

That must have been a pleasant change.

No desperate WhatsApp call from Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

No voice note from Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, begging him to come home and convene a family meeting to calm the masses.

Ramakgopa’s miracles at home meant that our leader was also spared the indignity of having to ask either of his hosts to charge his presidential power bank for when he got home — or the Poles for that matter.

One doesn’t anticipate that a request to charge Ramaphosa’s iPad would have gone down all that well with his reluctant hosts.

They were, after all, pretty nasty towards the small army of South African security personnel and media types who had tagged along on the presidential peace mission to Ukraine and Russia.

For a while it looked as if our compatriots might be held by the Polish government in revenge for South Africa continuing to force Chris Hani’s killer, Janusz Waluz, to serve his parole here.

There was a sense of relief when it was confirmed that the SAA plane had actually retracted its undercarriage on Monday; that those aboard weren’t going to be used in a prisoner swap in exchange for Waluz’s early return to Warsaw.

One wonders if Ramaphosa was shocked and surprised to find disgraced Presidential Protection Services head general Wally Rhoode on board the backup plane — or if he was left behind with the plebs on his boss’s instruction.

Perhaps Ramaphosa was worried that Rhoode might go border-jumping again — or waterboard somebody — if he got any further than Warsaw’s Chopin Airport and had him confined to the runway for the duration of the visit.

At least Rhoode did a better job of protecting whatever the “dangerous goods” were that had his team — and the plane — grounded, than he did of looking after the dollars that  Ramaphosa had stashed in the couch at Phala Phala.

Redemption, it appears, is within reach of us all. 

My sense of pique at not making it on to plane with the other media houses who were invited to accompany the president dissipated rather rapidly when it became clear that they were going to spend most of the trip on the runway at Chopin Airport.

All of sudden, those on board had about as much chance of getting to Kyiv and Saint Petersburg as the rest of us chilling at home — none.

Petty, yes, but the idea of the Chopin Contingent spending the weekend smelling each other’s breath, armpits and feet while the action took place without them was a bit of a laugh.

The Poles didn’t appear to be all that smiley about the African Union peace-making contingent themselves passing through their country in the first place, let alone the small army of security personnel and journalists that arrived on the backup plane.

Neither Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy nor his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, looked that happy about the proposed peace process either, given that Ramaphosa and his fellow African leaders told both sides to cease fire — quickly — and to stop making everybody else’s lives unnecessarily difficult.

No ego massage.

It’s not what either Putin or Zelenskiy wanted to hear — or what their backers have been telling them — but it’s the best advice anybody has given either of them since the Russians invaded Ukraine last February.