Putin's South African apologentsia

Andrew Donaldson writes on those members of our political elite making excuses for Russia's attack on Ukraine


AS the violence in Ukraine increases, so do the levels of anxiety and fear that come with the barrage of horrific images on our TV screens, and this raises, we are told, an important question: how do we talk to our children about the war?

Several experts have voiced their concerns in recent days, and there appears to be consensus: be open and honest with the kids, be attentive and listen to them; bear in mind they have lived through the pandemic and may have been isolated from friends and peers for months. Keeping secrets from children and speaking in whispers to spare them the catastrophic details may only worsen their mental state.

One British psychologist told CNN that while it is possible to have a “developmentally appropriate and reassuring conversation” with children about the conflict, it is important to remember that, “just because they aren't hearing it from you, doesn't mean kids aren't getting information elsewhere”.

This, of course, is very much the case with most of the awkward discussions that we may have with children. The difficult “facts of life” conversation comes to mind. (“No, Tarquin, Mummy certainly does not blindfold Daddy and handcuff him to the bedpost!” “Well, that’s what Nanny does…”) 

But in this, as in other issues, it would appear that perhaps parents’ fears are unfounded. The kids can cope; they’re resilient and stronger than we realise. They will be just fine. 

If anything, it’s the adults we need to worry about. How do we explain the war to the grown-ups?

This is a serious problem. The ill-informed nonsense from the usual quarters is a sure sign that these people have no idea of what is going on. The apologentsia within the ruling elite have mobilised. Quiet diplomacy has been buffed and rebooted. On one hand, it is stated that the death and destruction is to be regretted, and that the violence must stop. On the other, that Russia must be cleared of culpability because their aggression needs to be seen in an ultra-mitigatory “context” of some imagined historical grievance. That old Cold War thing, refitted to purpose, has been brought to bear.

Although, in some cases, not. On-and-off-and-on-again ANC member Phillip Dexter has attempted to explain this “context” with an allegory that suggested domestic abuse. What is happening, the former SACP treasurer believes, is in effect a form of huismoles. He shared the following on Twitter and Facebook:

“Before I went to sleep, my wife said to me: This Russia is such a bad country, If Ukraine wants to join Nato, it is their business and freedom, Russia has no right to intervene, this is just an excuse for Russia to invade Ukraine.

“So I said nothing, I just went to the kitchen and took a knife to bedside, then I said: Let’s go to sleep.

“My wife looked at me with her wide eyes: What the heck are you doing, sleeping with a knife?!?!

“I said: No worry, let’s go to sleep. Beside, sleeping with a knife is none of your business and it is my freedom.

“My wife said: How can I sleep when you are sleeping with a knife? What if you accidentally cut me?

“I said: Well, You don’t even trust your own husband, how can you expect Russia to trust Ukraine? Me sleeping with a knife is like Ukraine joining the Nato.” (sic)

Some Facebook users were not all that impressed. There followed comments to the effect that Dexter was mistaken in suggesting that Russia and Ukraine are a married couple when they are, in fact, neighbouring countries. Verrrrry different, y’know?

Dexter was not amused by such flippancy, constructive as it was, and lost his rag. A bit.

“I can’t discuss such issues with ignorant right wing and racist people,” he raged. “It’s my wall and if anyone talks crap or insults me then I will tell them to fuck off and block them. I am not on Facebook to please idiots and reactionaries.”

Touchy, touchy. But maybe’s there is some merit in Dexter’s example — only it’s a bit more like this: “My kids were arguing over the TV remote. Suddenly, our bullying next-door neighbour and his drunk buddies burst into the living room. They beat me to a bloody pulp, tied me to a chair and threatened to rape my wife in front of me…”

That may seem extreme. But then Putin does appear to think that the rape rhetoric is amusing, joking that it is Ukraine’s duty to endure sexual violence. “Like it or not, my beauty, you have to put up with it,” he quipped. (The guy’s a riot. Honestly.)

Elsewhere, and away from Dexter’s disturbing “contextual” fantasies about Mrs Dexter and Nato’s relationship with Ukraine, it appears that Squirrel has his own ideas about the war’s origins: Russia went full Tonto on its neighbour because Joe Biden wouldn’t enter into some sort of dialogue with the bear-baiting bastard in Moscow. 

US deputy secretary of state Brian McKeon has since emphatically rubbished this suggestion, telling Daily Maverick that, despite Washington’s repeated attempts to address Russia’s concerns diplomatically, Putin instead insisted on war throughout. 

Undaunted by the slap-down, Ramaphosa has since attempted to explain South Africa’s controversial abstention in the vote on a United Nations resolution to condemn the Russia invasion: it did not “foreground the call for meaningful engagement”.

It’s quite astounding that those nations that voted in favour of the resolution were unaware of this glaring omission. Were they all sleeping? Or were they under the impression that the opportunity for “meaningful engagement” had long since passed, and that it was perhaps best that Russia meaningfully disengage from Ukraine at once and with great haste?

No surprises, meanwhile, from the SACP. In their statement on the conflict, they bash away at the usual targets with all the yawn-inducing dreariness of the minutes of a 1930s Soviet tractor factory collective committee meeting.

“The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the primary aggressor that has caused the conflict in Ukraine through its expansion eastwards, towards Russia. The United States-led imperialist instrument of militarism, NATO, considers Russia to be its strategic adversary. Through its expansion and use of Ukraine as its expansionist ground towards Russia, NATO has engendered the reaction by Ruzzzzzzzz…”

They have also reacted to reports of racism and “disrespectful attitudes unleashed against Africans by state actors and others in Ukraine and its borders with some countries”. White refugees, they claim, have been prioritised in the evacuation from “the situation” in Ukraine and Africans have been maltreated and “viewed with disdain” by those with “Nazi and white supremacist tendencies that prevail in Urkaine and the countries bordering it”.

Excuse me, but tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees are fleeing the war on a daily basis. And it is a war, comrades, a vicious, stupid war — not a “situation”. I’m sure there is pandemonium on those borders with “some countries”, and that there are Africans who have been trampled underfoot in the stampede to safety. But perhaps they should talk to the Russians about this, take it up with them. The Ukrainians don’t seem particularly bothered at the moment. They have a bit of a situation on their own hands. You may have noticed.

Perhaps the weirdest expression of support for Russia has come from the transport minister, Fikile Mbalula. He shared a post on Twitter from the Russian embassy thanking South Africans for their solidarity and support in the fight against “Nazism” in Ukraine. Then Mbalula added: “Just landed in Ukraine.” Somewhat bafflingly, he punctuated his message with an image of the Ukrainian flag. 

Concern was immediate. First hellfire and apocalyptic destruction. Now windbaggery. Have not these people suffered enough?

Several media outlets tried to get to the bottom of the matter. TimesLive reported that attempts to get comment from Mbalula and his department on the tweet were unsuccessful. “Any response,” it added, “will be included once received”. 

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there was some opinion that the minister had offered himself up as a human shield to protect Russian convoys against those Nazis, but this was swiftly dismissed by dint of the fact that Mbalula is not much of a shield as he is too small to be noticed by anyone.

It turned out that the little shouty person was not in Ukraine after all, but conducting oversight visits at driving licence testing centres in Gauteng. He refused to comment on the tweets. Later, ANC spokesman Pule Mabe told News24 that Mbalula’s Twitter account may have been hacked. This has happened before, apparently.

On a more serious note, history, it is said, does not repeat. But it does instruct. And it is a Western tradition, one that our government is striving to denigrate and belittle, to consider events of the past when the present order is threatened. Perhaps that should be the starting point in explaining this war to the armchairborne divisison, that we submit to tyranny when the lies overwhelm us and we can no longer trust what we can see or hear for ourselves.