No grumpy Greta, just a smiling Cyril

Andrew Donaldson writes on Cyril Ramaphosa's appearance at the Cop27 summit in Sharm El Sheikh


GRETA Thunberg is not at Sharm El Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is underway. The Swedish activist, now 19, believes Cop27 is a waste of time; the event will merely allow the rich and powerful to get away with more “greenwashing, lying and cheating”. Despite all the talk and promises, such get-togethers simply don’t work. “The space for civil society is going to be extremely limited,” she has said. “It’s important to leave space for those who need to be there. It will be difficult for activists to make their voices heard.”

This is probably good news for most world leaders attending the summit, at least in the short term: no scolding or embarrassing dressings down from Thunberg. Who, let’s face it, is a genius when it comes to pithy sound bites: “Our house is on fire.” “We talk about our future, they talk about their present.” “The fact that we are speaking of ‘lowering’ instead of ‘stopping’ emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.”

That’s when she’s in a good mood. For Greta can turn on a tickey, and Pippi Longstocking suddenly becomes Bride of Chucky. Who can forget her acerbic attack on world leaders at the UN in September 2019? “I shouldn’t be up here,” she charged. “I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” 

So, this time round, no disquieting lectures on the existential crisis facing the planet due to global warming, no accusations of selling out the hopes of future generations in the pursuit of wealth, no confronting the painful reality that countries just aren’t doing enough to reduce carbon emissions. In short, then, no guilt trips and heavies laid on the leadership.

But the absence of Greta seems to come with a loss of fizz. Instead, and in contrast with last year’s upbeat jamboree in Glasgow, an air of pessimism and cynicism has enveloped Cop27, even as the nobs and dignitaries gathered at the weekend ahead of the big photo-op. Who will crack the headlines now?

Still, there was concern that actual progress regarding climate action seems non-existent. At Cop26, countries at least agreed to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a major advancement on the 2015 Paris Accords. But that agreement implied that immediate action was needed. So far … well, there has been precious little of that.

Meanwhile, some publicity wonks and NGO types have been doing the rounds at the various media houses and broadcasters here in an effort to gee up spirits ahead of the conference. One item on the agenda, I heard on several occasions, concerned the handing over of large amounts of money to South Africa to compensate and/or encourage a move to renewable energy sources. Given that the ANC government’s attitude towards renewables, now acknowledged as being way, way cheaper than fossil fuels, has been somewhat dismissive in the past, this is a step in the right direction.

Because Cop27 is taking place in “Africa”, there has been some chatter that this is an “African Cop”. This, of course, has excited Cyril Ramaphosa who has pushed for wealthy nations to make good on undertakings to support poorer countries with “climate finance” as they adapt to unavoidable change. It was once agreed that this “climate finance” would be at least $100-billion a year. But that was more than a decade ago, and the money hasn’t been forthcoming. Much more is now needed.

All told, then, Squirrel has some work to do.

And he appears to be cracking on with it. I’ve seen the pictures. There he is with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, with Rishi Sunak, the UK PM, with John Kerry, and with Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. 

The latter has warmly congratulated Squirrel on his energy transition plan. The crux of which is that Britain, the United States, France, Germany and the European Union have pledged $8.5-billion to help South Africa, the world’s 13th-biggest source of greenhouse gases, to decarbonise its economy. Almost half of those gases come from coal-fired electricity generation. 

The plan also involves programmes that will “re-skill” workers in the energy sector. Another crucial aspect of the plan, naturally, concerns efforts to get even more money out these rich countries. That $8.5-billion is just a start … but more of that another time.

Twitter’s reaction to all this has been rather predictable. There have been all manner of dire warnings: of ANC corruption and thievery, that the buggers are just going to steal the money; of Russians and Chinese lurking in the wings, waiting to get their hands on the tom; of Squirrel selling the country out to Western powers and white monopoly capital, and that Jacob Zuma and the Butternut RET revolution should instead get the bucks; of recolonisation of the Global South by the Whitewalkers of the North; of poor backwater simpletons being conned by scaremongers and carpetbaggers; and, it hardly needs saying, of the usual crap from denialists who claim that man-made climate change is a figment of our imagination and that this is all a waste of time.

But no matter. Two weeks from now, all this will have been forgotten. Until, that is, the next runaway mountain fire, or devastating flood, or whatever other disaster comes our way. It’s noteworthy, though, how often these once-in-a-lifetime catastrophes come around these days.

Boys’ night out

Much fun and games, we note, at the hilariously-named Crime Intelligence division of the SAPS. Regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) will tell you that these experts had a bit of a leadership overhaul following the arrest in September of a number of its senior offices on fraud and corruption charges relating to police tenders issued in 2016 worth about R54-million. 

One of the high-ranking officers not of apparent interest to the authorities in this particular matter is the CI’s acting divisional commissioner, General Philani Lushaba. He is one of those cops who, in a written porkie to Parliament, claimed that “no resources of the SAPS” were used in the cover-up at Squirrel’s Phala Phala farm or the subsequent clandestine investigation into the matter. This fabrication was approved by the police minister, Bheki Cele, no less. That’s yet another reason to get rid of this rubbish.

Lushaba, it seems, knows what it’s like to be burgled. News24 reports that, on 6 August this year, he opened a case of theft at a Tshwane police station. He claimed that he’d been out with a friend the previous evening. He’d noticed nothing untoward upon his return home and duly went to bed. The next morning, though, he discovered that items worth about R75 000 had been stolen.

But it now appears that Lushaba has been withholding certain details about this incident. According to the Independent Policing Union of SA and an unnamed source, the culprits were prostitutes. In a statement calling for his suspension, the union said, “It is alleged that General Lushaba brought in [sex workers] at his house in the absence of his wife, who was away on business purposes, and partied the whole night until the morning. The [sex workers] ransacked the house of moveable properties, including [state-owned] properties (laptop and firearm).”

These items were later recovered. Meanwhile, and according to spokeswoman Lirandzu Themba, Cele is “aware of the incident”. There is no truth in the rumour, however, that the Cat in the Hat was annoyed at not being invited to the party.

A defiance campaign

Carl Niehaus is refusing to apologise for attacking legal journalist Karyn Maugham in a tweet he posted last Friday in which he called on his 190 000-odd followers to “keep on kicking this dog harder so that her owner, who pays her, comes out”. The legendary numpty had until noon on Monday to retract his post and issue an apology. It didn’t come, despite a cease and desist letter from News24’s lawyers, who charged that Carl was not only attempting to dehumanise Maugham but also place her at risk of attack by his supporters.

“Your ongoing campaign against Ms Maugham,” they said, “constitutes an unlawful infringement of her dignity and reputation, places her at risk of physical harm, and amounts to a contravention of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011.” They added that Carl’s conduct was especially egregious in the light of the alarming levels of gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa, “not to mention the global escalation in killings of female journalists”. 

But Carl is having none of it and, in a 13-page frother, launched a fierce if garbled counter-attack. Any suggestion that his comments were tantamount to violence against women was “disingenuous, malicious and a deliberate miss-representation (sic),” he said. “To set the record straight: I am totally against any form of Gender Based Violence (GBV), and I have said/declared so on numerous occasions and also on public and social media platforms. Any suggestion that I promote GBV in any manner whatsoever is slanderous…”

Then there was the matter of Maugham’s attorney, Willem de Klerk, a man who clearly doesn’t know his place — and may soon regret this. As Carl put it: “Given that you are working for a law firm associated by surname with the former apartheid monster FW De Klerk, I am not surprised that you have stooped so low to create a fictitious case of defamation out of the exchanges I had with Karyn Maughan regarding her despicable attack on Public Protector Mkhwebane. You have embarked on a harassment campaign of your own against me, and I must warn you that you may be putting your license as an attorney at risk.” 

Stop laughing there, you guys at the back of the bar. This is serious. The guy’s got a problem with reality.

The Fourth Estate also came in for a drubbing. In this, Carl drew on the wisdom of one who has a friend in a very high place: “Remember that Pope Francis once said this about journalists: ‘Journalists sometimes risk becoming ill from coprophilia and thus fomenting coprophagia: which is a sin that taints all men and women, that is, the tendency to focus on the negative rather than the positive aspects’.”

Lest there be difficulty in catching the drift here, there came Carlsplaining: “To assist you and your client, this means journalists love shit, and encourage others to consume it! Who am I to disagree with the Holy Pontiff’s views about journalists’ marked interest in excrement, and other unusual use of faeces?”

Thing is, Francis (or Frank, as we lapsed Catholics refer to him) was warning journalists against fake news, not dismissing them as shit-eaters. 

No matter. I was instead impressed with Carl’s assertion that he didn’t literally mean that Maugham was a dog — it was a metaphor! One nestling in a “well-known centuries-old saying, ‘Kick the dog until the owner comes out’…” 

This puts the matter into perspective and explains everything. As Carl told The Citizen: “Obviously this was used figuratively and not literally. If I use another well-known English saying/phrase stating that ‘Journalism has gone to the dogs’ are you now going to say that I am calling you a dog? Surely not.” He later claimed the well-known English saying/phrase was also a well-known Ndebele saying/phrase and that the owner here could be the businessman Koos Bekker.


Winners and losers

The US midterm elections are underway as I write (on Tuesday afternoon). There have been no reports of meddling by the Kremlin. But give it time. On Monday, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a key Vladimir Putin ally and the head of Russia’s notorious Wagner mercenary group, boasted that he had been disrupting the congressional elections and would continue to do so. 

According to the Washington Post, Prigozhin had been asked about such interference by the Russian media and responded: “Gentlemen, we interfered. We are interfering and we will interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do … During our pinpoint operations, we will remove both kidneys and the liver at once.” His comments were published by his press service on Russian social media.

After years of denial by Moscow, this is the first such admission from a member of Putin’s inner circle that Russia had sought to sow disinformation among American voters. A former hot-dog salesman turned oligarch, Prigozhin was placed under sanction by the US Treasury Department for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election as an operator of internet “troll farms”. His Wagner mercenaries, currently fighting in Ukraine, have been accused of atrocities in Syria, Mali and the Central African Republic.

One wonders, though, why Prigozhin would now take the trouble to undermine the American democratic process when, in fact, the Americans seem expert at doing so themselves. Consider: The Times reports that there are 345 Republican candidates in national and state elections who, in order to gain Donald Trump’s endorsement, publicly deny the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and enthusiastically support the orange putz’s claims that voting was rigged in Joe Biden’s favour. 

This has prompted fears that candidates could dispute the midterm results if they dislike the results. As a political science professor, Amel Ahmed, told National Public Radio: “The fate of democracy really hinges on whether or not losers accept defeat and whether they recognise losses as losses. If you have a worldview where every loss amounts to the other side cheating … that just generally presents a challenge for the viability of democracy.”

The lesson here, then, is that there’s no reasoning with the denialists. 


Mpumalanga driving school owners last week gathered outside the Mbombela Local Municipality offices to protest “greedy” officials who had planned to increase bribery fees from R1 700 to R2 000 per student in need of a driving licence. 

According to Pretoria News, there was some community outrage that this action was not directed against the corrupt traffic officials but rather at the increase in bribes they demanded. One driving school instructor told the newspaper: “Our clients are desperate for driving licences. Most want a licence as part of a condition to finding employment, so officials take advantage of that.”

The unnamed instructor added that it was not possible to train learners to pass their driving test without a bribe: “A traffic officer will tell you no one in the country can pass a driving test. There will always be a slight mistake, so you have to bribe them if you want your client to pass. [But] these people have become so greedy. One traffic official at a testing centre usually goes home with more than R12 000 a day from bribes collected.”