From Putin to potholes, Cyril and our other masters of mediation could set a sterling example

From Putin to potholes, Cyril and our other masters of mediation could set a sterling example
Photo: Gulshan Khan / AFP; Graphic: iStock

Mediation could be South Africa’s new growth industry, surpassing even looting as a national pastime.

It’s very sweet of President Cyril Ramaphosa to offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine in the former’s ongoing military assault on the latter. He’s obviously proud of his negotiating skills, which did help to achieve a political settlement in South Africa, so there’s that. But he may not have realised that talks between the two sides are, in fact, already on the cards – even if they’re a bit retarded by the demands of Russia’s President Vlad Putin, demands that look very similar to his stated war aims in the first place.

Ramaphosa may also be unaware that Turkey is offering a space for negotiations to take place, that Putin is now refusing to talk to anyone but US President Joe Biden himself, and Ukraine has been saying it is willing to talk for some time now to Putin directly, but Putin has declined.

I’m sure Cyril can work all of that out. Honestly, it’s a global crisis and South Africa shouldn’t be left out of it. In no way does this look like South Africa is confused about an unrolling disaster and, from somewhere in the deep background, shouting: “Hey, over here! Talk to us!”

We South Africans know perfectly well that you can conduct negotiations towards a political settlement, and achieve that settlement, but call it a “revolution”. So we can surely faff about self-consciously on the sidelines of a war very far away and call that “mediation” if we like.

It’s also heartening that Deputy President DD Mabuza has thanked Putin for “opening a space” for negotiations, though it’s hard to see precisely where that space is. Mabuza obviously has superior powers of political perception, and he knows an open space when he sees one. It would be nice if Putin opened a space for, say, not murdering people, or not turning his artillery on civilians. But clearly this is a time for baby steps.

I do, however, take the point made by some other South Africans that perhaps our President and his deputy should be turning away from a European spat and turning their attention to this country and the problems it faces. We’re just emerging from the pandemic that has colonised all our attention for two years. And, as we emerge, we see how all those terrible problems we faced before the pandemic have now been considerably worsened.

It would be nice if the President could mediate between the pothole in the road, say, and the wheel of the car hitting it. It is known worldwide that South Africa suffers from many potholes, particularly in Johannesburg, our richest city and the pivot upon which our national economy turns. The other day, I saw some people from Discovery on “pothole parade”, filling them in a road near where I live – and Discovery didn’t even stand in the local-government elections!

It would be so great if Ramaphosa and Mabuza could mediate between the factions paralysing the ANC, because the factional jostling for power – especially for leadership positions that will be up for grabs by year-end – is distracting our elected public servants from doing their job of serving the public.

Cyril and DD could mediate between former president Jacob Zuma and his jail cell – the cell to which the courts say he should be returned after he Houdini’d his way out of it. Talk nicely to the cell, no doubt, and it will agree to be more comfortable for Zuma. He won’t even have to rush off to the hospital to deal with any mystery ailments. And if he does, the President and Deputy President could negotiate a secret settlement between JZ and his diseases: okay, we’ll let the heart fail, say, as long as we get to donate the liver to science.

It’d be wonderful if Cyril and DD could mediate between the undocumented African migrants who have come to South Africa in the hope of a better life and the locals yelling for their blood. They could even negotiate between Home Affairs and the desperate migrants, perhaps slowing down the process further so that everyone can get granular about it. But they should really be out there, in the streets, throwing themselves bodily between the cowering foreigners and the authentically South African lynch mobs.

I suppose the problem there is that would be too much of an echo of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s actions – it would be too reminiscent of a real leader going out on the front lines of a war and putting himself in mortal danger for the sake of freedom and autonomy.

We don’t, after all, want our top leaders to put themselves at any risk. If they get stabbed by a South African township dweller because they’re getting in the way of a xenophobic rampage, say, it really wouldn’t look good. It would hint that South Africans are pretty murderous, and it would also paint the rest of our distinguished parliamentarians as a bunch of lazy stay-at-homes, and that wouldn’t reflect very well on our democracy, would it?

Speaking of which, recent footage that appeared on the internet of Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu inspecting a troupe of former or imagined soldiers of uMkhonto we Sizwe, while wearing a pair of delightful white stiletto heels (tassels, nogal!), should be treated with the adulation it deserves. There is probably nobody else in the world who could conduct such an inspection en pointe.

Such delicacy amid the camo shows that South Africa would be the perfect mediators in any conflict on our continent or, indeed, further afield. We could, for instance, mediate between China and Taiwan, when that Goliath rains fire on that David, or even between Russia and Japan when they fight about those little islands they both claim to own.

I am of the opinion that Sisulu should give up the tourism portfolio and rather take the Ministry of Special Military Operations, which would include sending forces – with her in the lead, obviously – to war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where millions have died in a low-level civil war for the past, oh, 20 years.

I’m sure that, deep in the jungle, Sisulu could help to negotiate peace between the roaming militias and the villagers they force at gunpoint to do their open-cast mining, when they’re not murdering them outright or kidnapping their children to serve as cannon fodder. Sisulu could really find her vocation here: the Woman Warrior could dump her military stilettos and become a Dove of Peace, perhaps launching her own cosmetics line in the process.

Ramaphosa, Mabuza and Sisulu could set a sterling example for other politicians, and South Africa could once more become a society of negotiators.

Minister of Taxis Ses’Fikile Mbalula could learn to mediate between the minibus taxis and, well, the rest of the driving populace. When rival taxi mafias get into gunfights over who has the right to further endanger the lives of most passengers, Mbalula could get out there in the taxi ranks. Wearing perhaps a fetching dashiki to show his good intentions, he could part the combatants like Moses parting the Red Sea. If Mbaks took a bullet for the cause, of course he’d be lauded as a great martyr of the struggle to break every rule of the road. Surely that’s worth a tweet, minister?

We need mediation between the Zondo Commission and all those who feel slighted by its conclusions. It’s clear that not only whistle-blowers need support; the whistle-blown need support too. How is Nomvula Mokonyane dealing with the fallout of not getting crates of alcoholic drinks and great flotillas of chicken pieces, now that Bosasa has shut down? Someone should be mediating between La Mokonyane and her damaged political ambitions, or we’re likely to see some ugly crying at the ANC’s electoral conference later this year.

Someone should also be negotiating a settlement between former spy boss Arthur Fraser and the R1-billion he spent on a bunch of tontons macoutes for Zuma. A few concessions from Fraser (“I was just following orders”, say) and he could make peace with all that money he pissed down the drain of Zuma’s private army.

The possibilities are endless. Mediation could be South Africa’s new growth industry, surpassing even looting as a national pastime – and God knows we have no growth in actual industry, so we must work with what we have. Let’s open that space. DM168

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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