It's not the ANC that is worrying me right now

Jeremy Gordin writes on the looming superpower clash over the Ukraine

Ah, a plethora, a superfluity, an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to local politics ... Last night, for example, one TV news channel (eNCA), “unpacked” in great detail “[Cyril] Ramaphosa’s leaked audio recording,” and asked pointedly whether the president “would fall on the sword” [i].

Well, first someone would have to find his sword – or any sword. Do they have any swords in the Presidency? Can you imagine our Cyril performing hara-kiri, literal or metaphorical? C’mon; he’s too charming and cuddly.

The same channel also charted in great detail, with many vox pops (as Latin-ignorant journos refer to them), that there are a number of potholes in the world-class city of Johannesburg, a place which, after modest beginnings as a mining town, has, we have been told, become recognised as a world-class city.

I don’t want to be thought of as cynical, nor to have to refer to the hackneyed story of dog bites man vs. man bites dog, but it seems to me that I have been encountering and reading about potholes of various volumes for some 15 years; consequently, I couldn’t help wondering whether the sudden discovery yesterday of countless gashes, furrows, fissures, and ditches on our busy roads had some vague connection to the fact that Joey’s now has a DA mayor.

And so on and so forth. But tell me, what kind of a friend to readers would I be if I ignored an extremely important story, even if it’s an overseas one? Wouldn’t I simply be like the average ANC spokesperson or like that largely flightless African bird which lays the largest eggs of any living land animal, can run at 70 km/h, and is said to bury its head in the sand?

This is self-evidently an “important” story – so although I run the risk of flouting the Politicsweb’s Contributors’ Ethics Code (“Politicsweb is a website focused on the news and politics of South Africa”), just as Ramaphosa is alleged to have breached the executive code of ethics – I feel I must remark upon it. Having said that, however, I must also stress that I concede ab initio to not knowing know more about it than does the average reader or viewer of the News; who knows, I might even know less than most. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The story is about Russia, on the one hand, and Ukraine, the US, Nato, and (maybe) the EU, on the other. We (by which I mean “we humans”) do, after all, seem to be on the brink of a small-scale war, which could even become a larger one, including the use of nuclear weapons, the prospect of which, even though I live in South Africa, frightens me just as much as it did Bertrand Russell in England (or rather Wales) 66 years ago.

Or am I over-reacting? Is Russian President Vladimir Putin merely rattling his sabre, a few of which I’m sure can be found in the (Russian) Presidential Executive Office and which I’m sure Putin knows how to use?

Earlier this week, a family member (whose name I shall protect but who doesn’t live in Ukraine or anywhere near it) wrote to me: “I have no sympathy for the miserable country that gave the world Chernobyl, Babi Yar, and Ze’ev Jabotinsky (not in that order)”.

For those who don’t know, Jabotinsky (born Vladimir Yevgenyevich Zhabotinsky) was someone whom we can fairly call an ultra-right-wing Zionist [ii], and this does suggest that my family member might have been exercising his Gordinian facetiousness rather than being serious. However, in December, he (the family member, not Jabotinsky) remarked: “Why is everyone against Putin? He simply told Ukraine: ‘Get your border away from my troops’.”

What I’m trying to sketch here is that I am surrounded, as it were, by couch warmongers, they are in the very bosom of my family while all I’m trying to do is keep the world at peace.

Last night my gorgeous wife, generally the kindest of people, slumped into a chair in the so-called TV room and having watched the BBC for a while, said: “What a bunch of effete Chamberlains! Look at that Joe Biden, eating ice cream, and making threats that won’t change anything anyway.” (I appreciate that we’d recently watched Munich: The Edge of War, the Netflix movie based on Robert Harris’ novel, but still.)

Never mind my family though. What about Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, who’s also making warlike noises, in a Quisling accent, at every opportunity. What are we to make of all this?

Putin, it seems, doesn’t want Ukraine (ever) to join Nato, but more importantly, probably, he’s annoyed with Nato soldiers and (American) missiles being so close to Russia and its (assumed) sphere of influence. This seems to have become a thorny issue (again) since Putin’s friend Donald Trump left the White House; as you may recall, Trump wasn’t (ostensibly) all that keen on Nato and besides he and Vlad could (and did) have a nice chat (without others present) during which Trump apparently told Putin not to worry about such fripperies when there was commercial business to be done.

Putin would presumably argue that since Russians are nice people like everyone else, that Stalin is long dead, and that the Cold War is over, why is there any need for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization anyway? (He also no doubt wants to keep his Black Sea ports safe and secure.) But it seems there are other countries, besides the US, including particularly those who were under the Russian boot for decades, who don’t feel so trusting.

At any rate, as you know, Russia has in recent weeks been amassing large numbers of troops and hardware on the Ukraine border, which most people have seen as preparation for a possible invasion. Russia denies this, of course (“Whatever you do, deny it, deny it,” as Lenny Bruce used to say); the troops have presumably just been getting a winter vacation. Or something.

As for the Americans and Nato, however, they’re arguing that a bully is a bully is a bully (“remember the Sudetenland”), that Ukraine is a sovereign country and has the right to choose to be part of security alliances such as Nato – and that a Russian invasion will be met by severe repercussions [iii].

For peace-loving folk like me, it is these threatened “repercussions” that are a positive thing. Imagine two okes sizing each other up behind the so-called Industrial Arts building at Brakpan High. One says: “I’m gonna moer you.” The other says: “I’m gonna moer you stukkend.” And then one of them, like me for example, goes home full of blood and upsets his mom.

In the case of the Americans and Russia, the Russians are saying, “I might moer you, check my muscles,” and the Americans are saying, “If you moer us, we’re gonna place economic and financial sanctions against you, general and personal, so watch it.”

It’s worth reading about these possible sanctions (see here), which range from excluding Russia from the system known as Swift, a global financial messaging service, used by many thousands of financial institutions in more than 200 countries, to “abandoning” a new gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, called Nord Stream 2, though how the Germans feel about this, one doesn’t know.

This is a giant leap for mankind, don’t you think? Here you have a bunch of guys (and some gals) shuffling around like testosterone-fuelled schoolboys when all they need to do is spend a week or so together at some Norwegian fjord, drink a lot of vodka and single malt, tell a lot of jokes, and talk things out like so-called adults.

Point is that at least the Americans and Nato aren’t saying, “If you invade Ukraine, we’ll donder you with our weaponry and bombs”.

In short – for the Russians do appear to be listening – we seem to have come even closer to the previously unspoken realisation that, in Bob Dylan’s immortal words, “money doesn’t talk, it swears” – and what’s more, it can swear even more loudly than bombs detonating.

In his 1938 book Power, the forementioned Russell argued that the lust for power is the overriding force in human nature. As for me, I say Karl Marx is indeed dead, and I’m putting my faith in the human lust for dollars and more dollars.


[i] Ramaphosa apparently noted in a meeting with ANC confrères at a “closed” National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that there had been mention – apparently at the Zondo commission – that the ANC had used “public funds” for its election campaigns. (Personally, I thought this was common cause.) The audio tape of his comments having been leaked, his detractors said he’d better ‘fess up to the powerful [sic] Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) if not to the nation. His defender, in this case the ANC’s head of presidency [sic] Sibongile Besani said, with all the aplomb of a practised academic, that listeners needed to pay careful attention to “context” – Ramaphosa had been merely discussing what had been claimed, not confirming it.

[ii] I don’t know what the Africa4Palestine folks – presently overjoyed that former CJ Mogoeng Mogoeng has been ordered to apologise for joining a Jerusalem Post webinar in June 2020 – I don’t know how they’ll feel when they discover that the present incumbents in Israel are mostly a whole lot gentler and kinder than some of those (and their followers) who could have come to power.

[iii] Even the Brits have joined in and sent 30 [sic] elite troops and 2 000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. I don’t want to hear any giggling, please. As the Spartans used to say, “one Spartan is worth an army of men from any other state”.