/ 28 July 2023

Pray for drivers, Paul Mashatile’s in charge

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At home: Cryil Ramaphosa is in St Petersburg for the Russia-Africa summit but there’ll be no away game for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for the Brics summit. Photo: Pavel Bednyakov/AFP/Getty Images

The head of state, Cyril Ramaphosa, is playing another away fixture, this time at the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, hosted by that country’s president, Vladimir Putin.

It’s the second summit of its kind, and Ramaphosa and his fellow heads of state from the continent have made the pilgrimage to that city — some of them not for the first time this year.

Once more, the Mail & Guardian is out in the cold, left at home to fend for itself like an unwanted, red-headed stepchild, too ugly — and unruly — to take along on a visit to a rich uncle overseas.

We are poor — and admittedly a bit of a handful at times, having run a little amok during former president Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Angola, back in the day. But no one was injured — or arrested — in Luanda and international incidents were avoided. 

It would have been lovely to have had a chance to hang around looking interested while the heads of state sign the visitors’ book at the Konstantin Palace.

Likewise a frolic in the Black Sea — it has to be cleaner than the ocean off Durban, war or not — and a selfie or two at the gala dinner with the colleagues from Pravda and Russia Today at the media table.

It is what it is.

Like the M&G, Putin doesn’t get abroad much these days.

Invading the neighbours will do that, so it’s going to be one-way traffic between the continent’s capitals and Pulkovo Airport for the foreseeable future.

Despite the increasing familiarity of the venue to the visitors, more than a few awkward moments are likely to arise during the summit.

Putin will be playing thine gracious host to the leaders of some of the countries potentially worst affected by his cancelling of the Black Sea grain deal, which is surely set to make for an interesting discussion around the banquet table at gala dinner time. Famine with your wine, anyone?

Likewise the first eye-to-eye between Ramaphosa and Putin, especially after last week’s announcement that Vladimir Vladimirovich will not be playing in the reverse fixture in Sandton next month.

Putin must still be smarting after Ramaphosa sidestepped the hospital pass he played him over the Brics summit arrest warrant; letting the choice between US sanctions and nuclear holocaust run out of play with the agility — and peripheral vision — of a real pro.


Hopefully Vladimir will be in a forgiving mood — he doesn’t exactly have friends to spare so he may have to be — and the two days will go off without any public payback for South Africa fulfilling its commitments to the International Criminal Court.

Awkward, but not as awkward as a chance encounter in the streets of St Petersburg between Ramaphosa and his predecessor who, we are told, is in Russia for extended medical treatment.

Nxamalala has been in Russia since the court ordered that he go back to jail and finish his 15-month sentence and uBaba is apparently under doctors’ orders to stay where he is until he gets better.

I can picture uBaba waving his Russian sick note at Ramaphosa’s convoy as it hurtles past his hospital room on the highway, all hee, hee, hee, cursing his nemesis in cyrillic all the way back to the airport.

Speaking of convoys, with Ramaphosa away in St Petersburg, the deputy president Paul Mashatile is acting in his stead, running the shop while the boss is abroad.

It’s the Gospel according to St Paul — politically speaking — for the next few days.

I’m staying off the roads, just in case Mashatile’s convoy comes to Durban.

Just in case.

Mashatile’s team is crying conspiracy over the roadside beatings; the bodyguards are blaming the media — and the victims, who are getting kicked around again, this time as a political football in a game for which none of them bought a ticket.

I’ll keep my distance, anyhow.

Whether Mashatile was not in the convoy with his bodyguards; or was in the convoy but not at the scene of the beatings; or was at the scene but not aware that people were being kicked unconscious next to him, I’d rather stay at home until Cyril gets back.

In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with drivers in general, and Polo drivers in particular, with emphasis on those in the vicinity of the Union Building, or the N1 highway, for the next 48 hours.

May the good Lord watch over them.