Cyril fails to read the room

Andrew Donaldson writes on the frosty reception the President's address received in the UK media


IN his speech at Tuesday evening’s banquet at Buckingham Palace, King Charles told Cyril Ramaphosa that Nelson Mandela had conferred on his late mother a special name — Motlalepula, meaning “to come with rain”. As he put it, “I have been assured that this was a mark of the particular affection President Mandela felt for the Queen … rather than a remark on the British habit of taking our weather with us.”

This was the first inward state visit of Charles’s reign, and the Palace laid on much in the way of pomp, circumstance and amiable guff about the “special” historic relationship between South Africa and the UK. Squirrel, however, was not going to let his hosts forget a previous British habit — that of taking from, rather than taking with…

It was not as if events of the past had been swept under the carpet, though. As Charles told his guests: “While there are elements of that history which provoke profound sorrow, it is essential that we seek to understand them. As I said to Commonwealth leaders earlier this year, we must acknowledge the wrongs of the past if we are to unlock the power of our common future.” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

What Squirrel “understands”, in this case, has been plain to see and, as far as the sketch writers from the conservative press are concerned, he has come across as ungracious and somewhat grubbing during his two-day visit. This from Quentin Letts in The Times

“Visiting heads of state are usually subtler about asking for money, but Cyril Ramaphosa … was quick to business when he addressed the joint houses of parliament. Ramaphosa, not one of life’s charmers, demanded that Britain cough up for historical industrial emissions. South African wanted ‘compensation for harm done and harm yet to be done’. Get out your chequebooks. Actually, from what one hears about Ramaphosa, folding stuff might be preferable.”

Squirrel’s address, Letts continued, was light on the diplomatic clichés expected at such occasions. “Instead he banged on about poverty, diseased water, power cuts and how a transfer of ‘substantial resources’ was needed from rich countries (ie, us) to low and medium-income countries (ie, him).” 

Squirrel had certainly “misread the room”, Letts concluded. But then, as others have pointed out, this “historic relationship” between the UK and South Africa is viewed in an altogether different light by the president’s enemies in the ANC. 

Jacob Zuma’s supporters, for example, still rankle at Accused Number One’s vilification by the British media when he popped over in 2010 and they’d no doubt pounce on the opportunity to tear into Squirrel were he to embarrass himself by being overly deferential and grovelling about in the presence of the former colonial masters. Astute observers will note then that Squirrel was not asking for a loan, but a grant

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Tim Stanley described his speech as “moral blackmail” and suggested Squirrel may just as well have told his audience: “Give us yer money!” 

The problem, though, is that Britain doesn’t have any at the moment. 

Covid, you understand. All that furlough support and cash doled out to keep businesses afloat during lockdown and the health services working did rather drain the treasury. On top of which there are the state’s contributions to the soaring energy bills households face this winter as a result of Putin’s war in Ukraine.

The conflict does make the demand for assistance all the more interesting, especially as Pretoria refuses to condemn the Russian invasion. For their part, the Tory government would prefer to focus on trade with South Africa rather than challenge its aggressive “impartiality”.

None of this, however, appeared to bother Squirrel as he sailed forth in his speech. The relationship between the two countries, he said, has had its “its ups and downs, but I want to capitalise on the ups…”

“And didn’t he just,” Stanley wrote. “He asked us for more finance, investment and commerce, and insisted that the West should give big bucks to those countries hit by climate change, which should not be seen as ‘charity’ — Heaven forbid we should feel better about ourselves for doing something nice — but ‘compensation for the harm done’ by industrialisation. All part of a wider war against the ‘inequality’ that exists ‘between’ countries and ‘within’ them.

“At this point it might be helpful to know that Cyril is one of his country’s richest men. That the South African Parliament, which genuinely is a triumph of democratic development, is considering impeaching him over his failure to report a theft of up to $4million (£3.3-million) found stuffed into the sofas at this private ranch (he denies wrongdoing).

“But none of this will cloud the state visit for reasons of protocol but also precisely because Britain is so keenly aware of the ‘downs’ of its colonial past. We feel such guilt that our instinct is to assume that our present, dwindling reserves are ill-gained — so take them! Take all you want! It wouldn’t have been out of the British character, as Mr Ramaphosa let the gallery, to have asked if he’d like to take the statue of Queen Bess with him — compensation for the appalling weather he’s endured on this trip.”

Perhaps this “British guilt” explains why so few local commentators point out that much of South Africa’s misfortunes can be described as self-induced, that decades of ANC misrule and corruption have beggared the country. Do they fear being labelled “racist” and apologists for colonialism if they did so? I suspect this may well be the case.

The Guardian, however, has been more plain-speaking than most in this regard. In a report published ahead of his visit, they point out that Squirrel is a leader whose moral and political authority has waned considerably in the five years he has been in power. His country is failing: unemployment is soaring, violent crime remains endemic, and state-owned entities are broken. He is, consequently, facing a “tough few weeks on the domestic front”: in addition to a leadership challenge from Accused Number One's Radical Economic Transformation faction, the Farmgate parliamentary inquiry is set to make yet more mockery of his stated attempts to root out corruption.

The newspaper suggests that Squirrel is likely to survive both challenges, largely because the ANC has few other credible leaders. However, the party “expects to be punished by voters for its failure to tackle South Africa’s deep problems and its own”.

The gentle rain

Has my friend Carl Niehaus burst already? He has been in such dangerously high dudgeon following the courts’ decisions regarding Jacob Zuma’s unconstitutional and unlawful medical parole and the release on parole of Chris Hani assassin Janusz Waluś, and the pressure of the mounting outrage so great that his head must have exploded by now and we should all be drenched in bile and other pungent matter. Not yet? No matter, any moment now…

The poor man has gone berserk on Twitter, particularly over the release of Waluś. Carl’s frenzied feed is full of stuff about white monopoly capital, imperialism, sell-outs, betrayal, captured judges, deep hurt, humiliation, sullied legacies, racist conspiracies and a whole lot more besides. 

He is not alone in this, of course. The SACP has condemned the Constitutional Court’s decision directing the justice minister, Ronald Lamola, to release Waluś. The EFF, meanwhile, have said it was “callous, insensitive and regressive” to do so. 

Was there any such outrage when, in January 2015, the then justice minister, Michael Masutha, announced that the notorious apartheid assassin, Eugene “Prime Evil” de Kock, had been granted parole? 

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was among those who opposed De Kock’s release. But several others, relatives of his many victims, had visited the killer in prison and supported his parole application.

Lawyer Dumisa Ntsebeza, who sat on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and whose cousin was murdered on De Kock’s orders in 1985, told The Guardian

“What do I think about his release? This is a rule of law question. If a person has met the criteria, he should be granted parole and apparently he has met the criteria and is free to go. There are many people who did the same things he did and nonetheless are walking the streets of South Africa free. Those people have never suffered in the way De Kock did. There are as many feelings towards De Kock as there are people, but the majority of people I’ve heard speak on this issue appear to have a similar view to mine.”

The late Ben Turok, veteran ANC member and MP, appeared on eNews to make the point that Nelson Mandela had been in prison longer than De Kock. “I can’t help thinking about Madiba’s 27 years and everything that happens now has to some extent be seen in the context of what happened to Madiba,” Turok said. “But nevertheless, we want to build a humane society and, personally, I’m pleased that De Kock has been given parole. I think it’s a good thing and he has shown remorse, he has cooperated, and even though his crimes are beyond imagination we want to build a decent society.”

Meanwhile, loopy claims that Waluś and the late Clive Derby-Lewis, his accomplice in the Hani killing, were merely pawns in some broader conspiracy continue to abound on social media. Over the years, many in the ANC-SACP alliance came to regard this fanciful bilge as gospel, with the result that many campaigned to keep Waluś behind bars until he ‘fessed up to being part of a much larger right-wing conspiracy.

The SACP’s Jeremy Cronin did much to promote this nonsense, even suggesting in 2019 that Waluś may have been involved in an organisation that was responsible for the death of the UN secretary general, Dag Hammarskjold, in 1961. 

The truth will out, they insisted. Beat the dog until his masters appear. And so it it went. Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), though, we hold that it is best to fear those in whom the urge to punish is strong. Nietzsche, I know. But there you have it. Waluś did the crime. He did the time. We may not like it, but the law has dealt with him.