Rootin' for Putin

Andrew Donaldson writes on whether the ANC will be able to sneak the peace-loving Russian president into SA in August


THE fighting drags on, day after dreary day. Though heavily outnumbered, pitted as they seemingly are against all of the world, the mood in the bunker is one of stubborn defiance. The leadership will not be swayed. They have principles. Besides, it is Armageddon out there and this will be the hill on which they will fight to the last…

And so government unleashes its latest idiot salvo in a desperate barrage of aggressively warped “impartiality” regarding the war on Ukraine: diplomatic immunity for the alleged war criminal Vladimir Putin and his thuggish foreign minister Sergey Lavrov during their time on South African soil.

Or should that be a rumour or a slight allegation of diplomatic immunity?

Government claims that this is not just about Putin and his thuggish cronies. In terms of the notice gazetted on Monday by Naledi Pandor, the international relations and cooperation minister, this immunity applies to all international officials who attend this year’s Brics-related events, be it the ministerial meeting in Cape Town on Thursday and Friday or the summit in Johannesburg from 22 to 24 August.

Diverse nobs, in other words, and not just mass murderers, who turn up for these beanos will be protected by Section 6(1)(a) of the Diplomatic Immunities and Privileges Act of 2001. The act grants immunity “from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of their personal baggage” to any United Nations official, any specialised agency or organisations, and representatives of any state attending an international meeting or conference in South Africa. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Clayson Monyela, Dirco spokesman, claims Pandor’s notice is a “routine” matter, a “standard conferment of immunities” done whenever the country hosts these international summits. Government does tend to fib a lot (the real “routine” business here), so alarm bells should be ringing loudly at this point with the porkie-meter needle wildly banging away in the red.

However, and rather bafflingly, Monyela adds: 

“The immunities are for the conference and not for specific individuals. They are meant to protect the conference and its attendees from the jurisdiction of the host country for the duration of the conference. These immunities do not override any warrant that may have been issued by any international tribunal against any attendee of the conference.”

What’s more, in a tweet responding to a Daily Maverick report, Monyela says that the International Criminal Court, which has issued a warrant of arrest against Putin for alleged crimes against humanity, is, in fact, such an international tribunal. In other words, the ICC warrant of arrest against Putin trumps any protection Pretoria may grant the Russian leader.

This could be a diversionary tactic, a ploy to lull the enemy into a false sense of security. Or it could be another dawdle doddle, a bid to steal time. (I know the phrase is commonly “to buy time” but the ANC invariably pinches anything that is not nailed down.)  

Consider: an inter-ministerial committee headed up deputy president Paul Mashatile has been hard at work looking for “technical irregularities” in the ICC warrant in a bid to nullify the government’s legal obligation to arrest Putin.

And, according to Dirco director-general Zane Dangor, Mashatile’s team may have indeed found a loophole: apparently, the warrant did not come through the UN Security Council

Which means … what exactly? 

Well, according to government’s legal advisers, and in a nutshell, it means Putin can only be arrested if he hands himself over for arrest. As Dangor recently told a parliamentary briefing;

“In this particular case, the waiver of immunities for President Putin would need to come from Russia itself. This is subject to various legal interpretations and this is why this committee is looking at all these facets. We have a legal opinion, but another independent legal opinion has been sought so that we make sure of the action that will be taken.”

Article 98 of the Rome Statute states: “The court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person … of a third state, unless the court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.”

What is now needed is for some “independent” legal boffin to agree with government that this wording allows Pretoria the sort of leeway to host Putin without the obligation to arrest him. 

The suspended public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane springs to mind; her unique brand of unhinged jurisprudence will surely shore up government’s choice of inaction in this diplomatic farce in ways that are presently unimaginable.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance is pursuing its own legal action. Party leader John Steenhuisen is seeking a high court order that will hold Pretoria legally obligated as a signatory of the Rome Statute to carry out the Putin arrest warrant.

The DA’s application, filed on Monday, is clearly intended as a signal to the international community that it is the South African government led by Cyril Ramaphosa who are the Kremlin apologists and that Pretoria’s pro-Putin “neutrality” is not one necessarily shared by most South Africans. In other words, punish the president — but, please, not the people.

The international community is well aware that may be the case but, alas, sanctions tend to be less discriminatory. 

The South African Reserve Bank, for one, has warned of dire consequences should the country face such censure. In its latest financial stability report, the bank predicted that, at worst, secondary or indirect sanctions could be imposed on the country and this would lead to a sudden halt to capital inflows and increased outflows. It cautioned South Africa’s financial system would be unable to function if its ability to make international payments in dollars was impeded.

Herco Steyn, lead author of the report, told reporters this week that more than 90 per cent of South Africa’s international payments are currently processed through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication system. “Should South Africa be banned from Swift as a result of secondary sanctions,” he said, “these payments will not be possible.”

Nicola Brink, who heads up the Reserve Bank’s financial stability market, warned that sanctions need not even be imposed to have an adverse effect. Mere mention of the threat alone could result in South Africa’s financial institutions facing intense scrutiny from their foreign counterparts. As she put it, “They start derisking South Africa essentially, which means that even if nothing happens there is already some effect, with risk premia increasing.”

Other key risks with sanctions include the impossibility of financing any trade or investment or to make or receive any payments from correspondent banks in dollars; the likelihood that direct foreign investment dries up; and the possibility that relations with main trading partners will be damaged to the extent that the country loses its preferential trade access.

As it is, the bank said, South Africa has already fallen out of favour with many offshore investors, with foreigners currently holding 25% of local government bonds, down from as much as 42% in 2018. 

And, as previously noted in this space, the country’s pariah status is growing steadily. Squirrel, you will recall, was“uninvited” from the recent Group of Seven summit in Japan, a move interpreted as a superpower snub to the country over its non-nonalignment. 

Down in the bunker, the leadership bristles with indignation at this, and doggedly insists it will not be bullied by the West in this matter. Maybe so, but they’re in the running for one hell of a hiding. 

It may well transpire that Putin won’t attend the Brics summit. That’s how it is with despots and dictators; they don’t like to be away from the office all that much — it’s altogether far too risky, what with all the other power-mad knuckleheads waiting in the wings. But even so, our reputation is still in tatters. Which is what happens when you suck up to warmongers.

Farmers weakly

A fascinating read in Tuesday’s Guardian on new research into understanding how animals think. One study reveals that, in repeated trials, giraffes prefer carrots over courgettes. This, if anything, reveals the lengths — or rather, heights — scientists will go in determining what makes our four-legged friends tick. And why not, considering the impossibility of getting to grips with the vagaries of human behaviour?

There is, however, some suggestion here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) that animals be left alone with their thoughts. Peering into their souls may reveal a discomforting truth, that their opinion of us is far lower than previously supposed, and the results of such an inquiry may be especially triggering to those of sensitive disposition.

Cattle, for example, must be especially resentful. Only last week, for instance, revolutionary boulevardier Carl Niehaus and fellow numpty travellers on the lunatic fringe presented Jacob Zuma with a bull to honour him as “the Father of #RadicalEconomicTransformation”. This is absurdly cruel, to be trundled off to Nkandla on the back of a bakkie and there presented to a moron in some perverse patronage ritual. If anyone deserves to carted around in a tumbril it’s Accused Number One. Even the lowliest of beasts in the field know this.

Pigs, meanwhile, would be especially disdainful of Thandi “Death Camp” Modise. Like elephants, they have long memories and they may never forget the incident in 2014 in which large numbers of animals starved to death on her Modderfontein farm. At the time Modise explained, “I am not a farmer. I am trying to farm. I am learning. But if you are a woman and you are learning you are not allowed to make mistakes.”

Modise, who has tried her hand at various roles in the past, from arsonist to soprano singer, is now the defence minister, a position in which she is apparently encouraged to make mistakes — and frequently does. 

Should she however wish to return to the agricultural sector, it’s probably best she follows Julius Malema’s example and raises cabbages instead of livestock. Keeping that bar low is key, and in the event that she fails even here, as the leader of the Redshirts did, the hue and cry may not be so deafening. 

That said, scientists have determined that vegetables also endure pain when ill-treated. We may draw our own conclusions about that particular finding. 

But, and never mind pain, do our leaders feel shame? I feel that is the sort of investigation the chaps in the white coats should next consider.