Sticking a fork in one's foot

Andrew Donaldson on the ANC's bizarre goading of SA's largest trading partners


THE government is pressing ahead with plans to withdraw the country’s membership of the International Criminal Court. Once again, the ANC has been whining on about the court’s supposed bias. Understandably so: the genocidal maniacs who are persons of interest to the court just so happen to be the sort of people the ruling party wish to hang out with in their perverse quest for relevance on the global stage.

Chief among those on the Christmas card list is, of course, Vladimir Putin, probably the world’s only tyrant whose man-breasts appear to be sculpted entirely from a low-fat cheese spread. 

This is an utterly shameful business. Not the moobs, of course, but the ICC’s warrant for Vlad’s arrest in connection with crimes against humanity and the government’s maddening defiance of same.

The decision to withdraw was taken at the ANC’s national executive committee at the weekend. As Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly told the media on Tuesday: 

“The governing party … has taken the decision that it is prudent that South Africa should pull out of the ICC largely because of the manner in which the ICC has been seen to be dealing with these types of problems. Our view is that we would like this matter of unfair treatment to be properly discussed, but in the meantime the governing party has decided again there should be a pull out so that will be a matter that will be taken forward.”

This was particularly weaselly and tin-eared of Squirrel, especially when you consider that his comments came during a state visit by Finland’s President Sauli Väinämö Niinist. Was he not aware that just three weeks ago Finland became the 31st member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, thus doubling the length of the security alliance’s borders with Russia?

The reason the once avowedly neutral Finns had opted for Nato membership was, of course, due to the sobering realisation that said neutrality offered scant protection against Putin’s paranoid aggression.

Unlike Squirrel, Niinistö has a spine and he wasn’t going to stand dully by in silence and listen to this “non-aligned” bilge from his host regarding Russian aggression. TimesLive quoted him as telling reporters, “The war in Ukraine and how it started is that the big neighbour attacks a smaller one from different sides of the country.”

You get the feeling that Niinistö’s comments were directed foursquare at Squirrel and his government. And delivered in a slow, deliberate manner — rather like a parent or teacher patiently addressing a child with learning difficulties.

It was a “a full invasion”, he continued, and it had aroused feelings among Europeans that it was wrong. 

“When people have an opinion, it reflects on politics and this feeling was surely noted. Why [our] government decided to help Ukraine in Finland was because we were attacked by the Soviet Union in 1939 and we were left almost alone. This is in our memory.”

A Finnish journalist, puzzled by Squirrel’s grovelling “neutrality”, asked why Pretoria had resisted calls to condemn Russia. Squirrel replied that conflicts of “whatever nature are best resolved through negotiation”, and that this was something the ANC learnt from Nelson Mandela, who claimed that apartheid would be resolved through negotiation. 

“And he triumphed in that upon being released the negotiations then ensued and they brought the end to the nightmare that was apartheid and that is the great lesson we learnt which we continue to propagate and say conflict needs to be resolved that way.” 

Hmmm. Will there be such negotiations when Putin arrives in Johannesburg? His decision to attend the Brics summit no doubt spurred the ANC’s decision to withdraw from the ICC. 

And, should that not be enough to reassure the Kremlin that the Russian president would not be cuffed and tossed into the back of a van upon landing at OR Tambo, there is always the party’s stated position is that it will not act against those charged with war crimes while they are sitting heads of state. As ANC NEC member and public enterprises deputy minister Obed Bapela recently told the Sunday Times: “No-one has ever done it and I don’t think anyone will ever do it.” 

Naledi Pandor, the minister of international relations and co-operation, recently announced that Squirrel will be sending a delegation of envoys to Washington in a bid to avoid a diplomatic fallout over Putin’s visit. More importantly, government is hoping that, should there be a fallout, it won’t endanger trade ties with the US. 

“South Africa must never be blasé about her interests ... when you have a country which has trade of the equivalent of more than  R400 billion, you don’t want to lose that,” Pandor said. “So, yes, the president has decided to send out special envoys.”

No further news of this mission just yet. But there’s a lot at risk here. And it’s probably going to take a lot more than a bit of sucking up by mealy-mouthed envoys to placate the country’s biggest trading partners. One commentator, Intellidex chairman Stuart Theobald, summed it up rather neatly when he told BusinessTech

“Russia has very little economic relationship with South Africa. We export 50 times more to the US than we do to Russia. We export 150 times more to Europe (including the UK) than we do to Russia. The relative imports are of similar orders of magnitude. 

“Consider also that, according to IMF data, SA’s five biggest direct investors are the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, the US and Germany, with $136 billion (R2.5 trillion) between them. The IMF records Russian investments in SA of just $5 million. Even if the real number is far larger, it is a fraction of the major Nato powers.”

Big bucks, in other words. But, for all this, Pandor not only remains the ANC’s most ardent supporter of a “neutral stance” regarding Putin’s war, but she is probably the only foreign minister in the world to have been swept utterly off her feet by her charmless Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. 

It’s possibly as a result of such infatuation that she is so unequivocal about what she terms the “double standards” of the ICC, claiming the court had been used to target African leaders while the leaders of the superpowers were not indicted for their crimes.

Oh dear. Love has clearly blinded this once sagely creature and stripped her of all reason. As the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) point out, there was nothing strikingly African about Slobodan Milošević and Augusto Pinochet, both of whom were indicted by the ICC. And is not Vladimir Putin the leader of a superpower? Why else fawn and prostrate themselves before this maniac? 

And enough already with these false moral equivalences. Pandor can and does rattle off at will a whole mess of horror shows like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan with the implied suggestion that the West has been involved in atrocities for decades, so what’s the big deal if Russia has a crack at a bit of mayhem as well?

Unfortunately, said mayhem is not confined to the Ukraine. The African adventures of the Kremlin-backed Wagner group of Russian mercenaries are worth noting. Among other territories, they’ve been busy in Mali, Central African Republic, Libya and now Sudan. Perhaps government could one day say a thing or two about these “conflicts of whatever nature”. We shall see.

Not just bats

There’s been a bit of monkey business in Sri Lanka. The island nation reportedly owes Beijing $7 billion, a debt incurred after China built the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota as part of president Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. The port is now part of the proposed “string of pearls” that link Beijing to markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

Sri Lanka is just one several countries with flailing economies who had received long-term loans from Beijing. Unsurprisingly, the country defaulted on repayments and last year slid into beggared status. 

However, and according to The Times, Beijing has suggested a way in which a portion of the debt could be repaid: in monkeys, and at least 100 000 of them. The newspaper recently reported that a Chinese delegation had approached Sri Lankan agriculture minister Mahinda Amaraweera with a request for shipments of toque macaques, a species found only on the island. 

The proposal is potentially beneficial to local politicians. Many farmers consider the monkeys a menace. Their numbers have grown to such an extent that they have lost their fear of humans and often raid homes for food. Wildlife campaigners are appalled, and dispute assurances from Chinese officials that the creatures would be housed in zoos. They fear instead that many of the macaques would be used for tests in laboratories. But such is the cost of doing business with China. 

The bottom of the barrel

Shocking news. Or it would be but for the load shedding. Eskom’s former CEO André de Ruyter has conceded in an affidavit shortly to be delivered to Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts that he may have been wrong about the amount of money stolen from the utility. His previous submission, R1 billion a month, was in all likelihood an underestimation. The true figure? He’s not saying. Not just yet, anyway. . .