Putin's protectors

Andrew Donaldson on the blowback against Premier Alan Winde's threat to have the Russian president arrested


MUCH derision, I note, directed at Western Cape premier Alan Winde following his declaration last week that Vladimir Putin would be arrested should he enter the province. 

Winde was commenting on the confusion that has further dithered Pretoria in this diplomatic cock-up and said he would not hesitate in exercising the International Criminal Court’s warrant for Putin’s arrest, a position that has been endorsed by DA leader John Steenhuisen. The Russian despot is due to attend a Brics summit in Johannesburg in August, a situation that has put the national government in an embarrassing quandary.

The blowback against Winde has been extremely puerile. On Twitter, an ever reliable indicator of the mob’s political maturity, the braying has risen to the intellectual level of the school yard. For example, the tweet by my old friend, Carl Niehaus: “Lol, @alanwinde, you and who? Go and play police in the creche sandpit where you belong.” This alongside a picture of a toddler in a cop’s uniform. (Warning: more of Carl below.)

There was more of the same from Julius Malema, who tweeted: “How I wish President Putin could make a turn at Leeuwenhof, Gardens, Cape Town. I just want to see something.” As we do, as we all do… ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Also on Twitter and clearly drunk on the Kool Aid, the EFF’s deputy, Fraud Shivambu, added his two cents’ worth: “Winde is a clown like the other clown who’s declared the EFF his number 1 enemy. Putin will not be arrested and all what’s happening in Eastern Europe will culminate in the reconfiguration of global balance of forces which will replace unipolarity with multi-polarity. Clowns will dwindle into insignificance!” 

The Sunday Times was no better and made Winde its Mampara of the Week, describing the premier’s position as “right-wing stuff” and calling him a “moegoe”. 

Most ANC members who weighed in on Winde point out that the Western Cape is sadly not yet, in fact, an independent country. The party’s short and shouty secretary general, Fikile Mbalula, said the premier simply didn’t have the power to stop anyone coming to South Africa — including Putin. 

Don’t tell the little guy, but he’s missing the point: no-one wants to stop Putin from visiting the country; they just want him arrested if he does come. 

It is not difficult to understand the blind veneration for Putin. Do not be fooled, though, by all this chatter about staunch allies during the struggle years, and Russia’s unwavering commitment to global revolution. 

The real reason for this unseemly devotion is rooted in a pathological sense of inadequacy and deep-rooted envy. Putin is a major league tough guy. He has a nuclear arsenal. Not only that, but thanks to a rigorous martial arts programme and a health regime that includes swimming in icy Siberian lakes, having unprotected sex with bears and drinking reindeer blood, he does rather come off as an intimidating and warlike Tartar, a scourge of the Steppes. He is more of a sociopath than his acolytes will ever be.

It is not a mystery that an intention to fulfil the country’s commitments and legal obligations to the ICC should attract such hostility. Unfortunately, the prostration before warmongers does have consequences. South Africa is not only a signatory to the Rome Statute, which set up the court, but was keen as mustard in advocating the establishment of such a body in the first place. What seemed good PR at the time, boosting Pretoria’s ambitions for global relevance, backfired however when the court began indicting the ANC’s shabby allies. Awks, you could say.

There came a grumbling among the ratbags that the ICC was targeting only fellow ratbags. Such was the tenor of this charge that in 2015 South Africa blithely ignored the ICC arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir when the then Sudanese leader was in Johannesburg for an AU summit and chose not to detain and extradite him to The Hague to be tried as a war criminal.

The excuses for not doing so were pathetic and ranged from “We cannot arrest a sitting head of state” to “We don’t know where he is at the moment; he could be shopping for all we know.” Government also claimed that any action taken against Bashir may have impacted negatively on “peace negotiations” in Sudan.

He was allowed to slip out of the country, a decision the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled as unconstitutional. The ANC, unrepentant as ever, sullenly declared it intended withdrawing from the ICC. Nothing, however, came of this threat.

Last week, on Tuesday, 25 April, Cyril Ramaphosa announced that government was dusting off those withdrawal plans, complaining of the court’s bias. South Africa would pull out of the ICC because of its “unfair treatment” of those it indicted for crimes against humanity. However, a few hours later, and in what may regarded as yet another reverse ferret in a whole season of reverse ferrets, the presidency announced that this was not, in fact, the case and South Africa would remain in the court. The flip-flopping has been greatly derided by Squirrel’s political opponents. 

There was a lot of guff from Vincent Magwenya, the president’s spokesman, about a recent discussion by the ANC national executive committee on the “potential withdrawal” from the ICC as “an option that would arise as a measure of last resort in the absence of legal options that would result in fairness and consistency in the administration of international law”. The NEC weighed in as well, issuing a supporting statement saying “an unintended impression may have been created that a categorical decision for an immediate withdrawal had been taken. This is not so.” 

In truth, though, Squirrel had no choice but to back down; his nuts were being squeezed. It was not legally possible for South Africa to withdraw from the ICC before the Brics conference in August; according to the court’s rules, a country remains a member of the ICC for a full year after it serves notification to withdraw. 

What’s more, the matter would first have to undergo a lengthy parliamentary process before South Africa’s withdrawal was given the nod. The courts made this clear after the Bashir controversy, and they were unlikely to tolerate a repeat of that farce if Putin visited South Africa and Pretoria ignored the ICC warrant.

The ICC has also sternly reminded South Africa of its obligations following the Bashir debacle. But while it found that the government had failed to comply with its duties as a signatory to the Rome Statute, observers were surprised the ICC did not refer South Africa to either the Assembly of State Parties, the court’s management oversight and legislative body, or the UN Security Council for further sanction. It is unlikely to be as lenient were the ANC government to renege on its commitments a second time. 

There is also a chance that the ICC’s jurors have been thinking about the violent power struggle currently unfolding in Sudan. Perhaps they suspect, as I do, that this bloody mess would never have happened had Bashir been arrested, as per the ICC’s request, in 2015.

For all this, Putin is not likely to rock up in August. According to the Sunday Times (them again), government now realises that it has no choice other than to arrest him if he comes. This is not as difficult as our home-grown fascists would have you believe; you simply ground his presidential aircraft thus preventing a return to Moscow, place him under house arrest in a three-star hotel and wait for the ICC sheriffs to arrive. Should there be any confusion here, I’m sure Alan Winde can explain everything. 

Putin will accordingly be asked to attend the Brics summit via a Zoom link-up, the newspaper reported. It does seem a rather cowardly resolution to an embarrassing dilemma. 

However, as noted, it has been a damaging business. A fortnight ago, South Africa was “uninvited” to this month’s Group of Seven summit in Japan, a move interpreted as a superpower snub to the country. According to media reports, the presidency later said it was “not disappointed” at the decision, and rattled off some diplomatic nonsense about the Japanese wanting an Africa bloc at the summit rather than individual countries, which Pretoria found quite agreeable.

Less agreeable, perhaps, is Pretoria’s growing pariah status. The G7 snub, undoubtedly related to the government’s obdurate and irksome failure to condemn Putin’s war against Ukraine, means South Africa has lost an important international presence. That must hurt.

Slot machine demagoguery

The fledgling African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance is struggling for relevancy. Carl Niehaus, who cobbled together this assemblage of disaffected fantasists, has registered Areta as a political party. It will take part in next year’s elections in its bid to recommit the country to a true revolutionary course. After which, one presumes, a renewed arms struggle is on the agenda.

Areta has trotted out the same old, same old in terms of objectives: expropriate land without compensation, nationalise the SA Reserve Bank, attack foreigners, bring back electricity, introduce a referendum on capital punishment, etc. Coincidentally, they have plans to introduce a legal defence protection unit which will guarantee the legal rights of all South Africans — including, supposedly, those they wish to hang.

The press have failed to take much notice of all this. They regard Carl as a joke, a half-wit in camouflage, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, when the military fatigues are in the wash, Carl will turn out as a boulevardier in blazers of a questionable check and clip-on bowties. He has also shared on social media a video in which he dances in pyjamas.

That said, Carl grows increasingly frustrated with the media. One sign of this is a recent meme he posted on Twitter. It features a hand holding what appears to be a coin-operated fountain pen and the captions “Reality of journalism” and “Do you agree?” The image was purloined from a 2019 critique of corporate media arguing that an “intense urge to maximise profits” has resulted in “infotainment” masquerading as news. 

Such dishonesty can be costly, as Fox News has discovered. In a bid to shore up it ratings, they deliberately aired false and misleading reports that the 2020 US elections were rigged. This exercise has now cost the broadcaster $787.5 million in libel damages.

Carl’s inference, of course, is that the media are paid by nefarious corporate entities to produce a distinctly anti-Carl narrative. This is obviously nonsense. Carl is by far the foremost fueler of the anti-Carl narrative, and it has nothing to do with white monopoly capital or whatever nonsense that’s troubling him but rather his own record of false and misleading statements.