Why was Ramaphosa’s security detail grounded in Poland – pro-Russia perceptions, or underprepared securocrats?

Why was Ramaphosa’s security detail grounded in Poland – pro-Russia perceptions, or underprepared securocrats?
SA’s President Cyril Ramaphosa with African Heads of State including Egypt's Prime Minister Mustafa Madbuli, Senegal's President Macky Sall, Comoros' President Azali Assoumani and Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema during the African Peace Initiative Mission on 15 June 2023. (Photo: GCIS)

Was South Africa’s security contingent grounded in Poland because the country is perceived to be pro-Russian? Or was it simply because underprepared securocrats brought too many people and weapons for the occasion?

Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema had a total of 24 officials – of whom about a dozen were security officers – travelling with him on the African peace mission to Ukraine and Russia on Friday and Saturday.

Comorian President Azali Assoumani was accompanied by two security officers and four other officials, other sources said. 

Senegalese President Macky Sall probably had about the same number of security guards as Hichilema.

As a result of having such small security contingents, these and the other three state officials participating in the peace mission were able to travel with their guards to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday and to St Petersburg to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

Security overkill

President Ramaphosa, meanwhile – with a huge security detail numbering about 120, plus about 12 containers of weaponry (reportedly including heavy arms fit for combat, not just personal protection) – couldn’t take them either to Kyiv or St Petersburg, because the small South African army caused such alarm along the way.

Particularly to the Poles. The Polish government grounded the South African Airways charter aircraft at Warsaw airport, refusing to allow the guards or the weapons off the plane.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Mission impossible? SAA plane remains grounded following initial premature Polish clearance for take-off

Eventually, about 26 hours later, the security personnel – plus about a dozen journalists on the plane, who had become “collateral damage” as one of them put it – were allowed to disembark and were taken to a hotel in the city, without their luggage.

Ramaphosa’s head of security, General Wally Rhoode fulminated about the Poles trying to sabotage the peace mission and being racist. He said it was because the Poles demanded originals instead of copies of the necessary clearance certificates. 

‘Failure to comply’

But the Polish foreign ministry told a very different story, saying that the plane and security team had been detained because of “a failure to comply with standard entry procedures required by the Polish side”.

“Dangerous goods were on board the plane, which South African representatives did not have permission to bring in. In addition, there were persons on board the aircraft of whose presence the Polish side had not been notified beforehand.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zelensky rejects any proposal for a ‘frozen conflict’

At that point, it looked as though the security team’s aircraft, having missed Ramaphosa’s trip to Ukraine, would at least get to cover the Russian leg, when Ramaphosa and the rest of the African mission were to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg.

But that didn’t happen either, for reasons that are not quite clear. It was conjectured that SA couldn’t get overflight permissions. 

Hungary was mentioned in some reports, which made no geographical sense at all, since it is way off the route between Warsaw and St Petersburg. It has also been reported that it was Estonia that refused overflight. That makes more sense geographically, as it does lie on the direct line between Warsaw and St Petersburg. But SA could then have detoured around Estonia by flying over Belarus – Russia’s closest ally – into Russian airspace.

Gung-ho, but underprepared?

But the real reason seems to have been that the large consignment of security personnel and weapons on board convinced everyone concerned that this SA aircraft should be sent back to South Africa as soon as possible. 

Ramaphosa, Sall and Assoumani were the only three presidents on the mission, while the four other African governments involved were represented by their officials. Of these, the most senior was Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, who had quite a substantial security detail – though nothing like Ramaphosa’s, diplomats said.

Uganda and the Republic of Congo were represented by lower-ranking officials, and their security details were small, the sources said. 

So, was the grounding of President Ramaphosa’s security team a Nato plot to frustrate South Africa’s participation in the peace mission, as Rhoode seemed to be hinting and some South African officials also seemed to think? Was this because South Africa is increasingly seen by Nato countries as pro-Russia?

Or was it rather quite simply that President Ramaphosa’s gung-ho yet underprepared securocrats loaded up way too many people and weapons for the occasion – were they expecting to fight the Ukrainian army? – and so inevitably caused alarm and provoked resistance? DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bill Gild says:

    Characterising Ramaphosa’s securocrats as “gung-ho” both says it all, and understates the problem with the goons charged with presidential security.
    I have twice seen these blue-light conveoys in action in CT. On both ocassions their behaviour could best be described as reckless, dangerous to others on the road, and wholly unprofessional. They put our notorious taxi drivers to shame.
    And why there were so many, lugging weapons (who knows what calibre and kind) in significant quantities leaves many questions.
    My sense is that they have over-inflated understanding of their importance and necessity, have little to no training in close-in protection, and a level of arrogance or ignorance regarding international conventions and laws.
    Clearly the time has passed that SA had professional, well-trained law enforcement officers, who discharged their responsibilities in ways that resembled professionalism, and not thuggery.

    • Gerrie Bosman says:

      Unfortunately I cannot but agree 100% with your comment; I spent a few years in the bad old days in SAPS during the hight of national service, and even at ground level there was more professionalism then that there seems to be at the top today …. And why weapons anyway on a peace mission?

    • Jacki McInnes says:

      Yes indeed. Just another embarrassing case of SA politicians and their keepers barging in like bulls in a china shop with no clue, perception, nor respect for other nation’s protocols. Arrogant fools playing ‘follow my leader’.

  • David Pennington says:

    And do tell just why does he need guns for a peace mission, I’ll wait

    • Derek Jones says:


    • Bob Dubery says:

      Because he’s a head of state. The other heads of state on this trip took their own security, and I’ll wager they were carrying more than pea shooters. Heads of state travel with security. The alternative is to not take security, in which case the criticism will be that the HOS was allowed to travel without security and thus risk life and limb. There’s no way to win this argument, but there is a way to minimise the risks for the HOS.

      • Louise Wilkins says:

        The alternative is to take a sensible amount of security, like the others did.

      • Graham Smith says:

        It is the way it was done. Total overkill or some other sinister reasons of which we will not know. However, from your comment it is abundantly clear that you have made up your mind regarding ramacouch. All other heads of state had minimum security accompanying them and NOT weapons to arm the world/russia. It has just been proven that grade 4 kids cant read for meaning. It seems there are actually older people in that same category. Perhaps read the article again.

      • Gerhard Vermaak says:

        He eventually went on to both events without the kings horses and the kings men and survived, could it be that he cared more about who or what he was than anyone else, I think it’s called “Delusions of Grandeur”

      • Jose.correia says:

        Why were 120 security personeel required to protect CR? Were they that useless that 3 or 4 couldnt do it.

  • petroscali says:

    It is clown town. Totally in line with other beaurocratic administrative bungles, with no need to mention them as there are many.

  • Peter Brierley says:

    What a flippen embarrassment! 120 security guards? Containers of weapons? What is it that the Squirrel is afraid of?

  • Francois Smith says:

    Ramaphosa is still windgat about marching with the UDF and playing a part in overthrowing apartheid and being Madiba’s preferred presidential candidate. Reality has not yet set in that partially due to his hand in propping up Zuma and his party’s own hand in the bad management of South Africa, he has indeed turned into just another African leader with no clout.

  • Hans Van breukelen says:

    The security brigade reminds me of the Keystone Cops. However, imagine foreign dignitaries traveling by train in South Africa without a security team… and we are not at war.

    • Alan Paterson says:

      Good point but largely theoretical bearing in mind the state of our rail system.

    • G.olivier says:

      I was once part of a team that welcomed them PM David Cameron to an event to meet Desmond Tutu. His detail was exceptionally small, and we only realized who that were by the telltale in-ear comms, so discrete were they. And if they were armed it was never apparent.

      By contrast I also saw the visit of Michelle Obama at Apartheid Museum and that was a very different story, it looked like something from Call of Duty…

      • Johann Olivier says:

        Hmmm? Britain & the most powerful country in the world. Yes, The Squirrel (fantastic!) sees himself as very special …

  • Iam Fedup says:

    The answer to Peter Fabricius’ questions is, “who gives a damn?” The causes are irrelevant, but what is important is that these fools have zero credibility, and have turned our country into a laughing stock. More embarrassment is sure to follow until we are rid of them.

    • Bill Gild says:

      Agreed! Sadly, we will never be rid of them.

      • sarahanne.kope says:

        I have to agree. To my mind, if the ANC lose the 2024 elections, there will be blood in the streets, rather than a certain segment of the population letting free and fair elections rid us of these fools.

        • Glyn Morgan says:

          I disagree. If the DA plus IFP plus small parties get in there will be no “blood on the streets”. The ANC will become the anc and will be in such a state of personal confusion that they will be looking after themselves, personally. Half of the anc big-shots will depart out of blind fear. The other half will keep their heads down and hope nobody notices them.

        • P B M .. says:

          I hope I’m wrong, but what’s coming our way if the ANC lose will make the Durban riots look like childs’ play.

          • rocheburgers says:

            Even if they win Peter, we can expect a lot more unrest like the Durban riots. There are just too many desperate deprived people.

  • Grounded plane in Warsaw ensured there were no SA journalists present at the meeting with Putin. Ramaphosa had an agenda to discuss that he didn’t want recorded.

  • Derek Jones says:

    I think we really have to come to the conclusion that Ramaphosa is and has been for some time worse than useless. An unnecessary security detail of 120? Containers of arms and sniper rifles without proper permits? The effrontery to deliver his idea-less 10 point plan so super painstakingly slowly and self importantly? Clown show is right.

  • Mike Blackburn says:

    Or maybe the Poles didn’t want to be seen to be aiding and abetting the illegal smuggling of arms ? You can fit a lot of cargo into the hold of an airbus A340-300 – why did we need all that firepower unless it was meant to be delivered to Russia.
    Yet another fiasco involving SAA and another colossal waste of taxpayer money.

    • Peter Oosthuizen says:

      Hit the nail on the head – probably wanted to sell them to pay for jet fuel.

    • Ken Meyer says:

      My thinking exactly. Sniper rifles, maybe sophisticated night vision equipment. Who knows? There was a good reason why Wally Rhoodes refused to open these crates and rather abandoned the entire mission. Securing the president had nothing to do with it – Ramaphosa was perfectly safe without the small army.

  • virginia crawford says:

    A foreign political science student was telling me about a project detailing the achievements of the African Union, and couldn’t find one! An embarrassing and expensive shambles, as usual. Zelensky should have refused to see them. Ironic that Sudan, Somalia, DRC, Libya are chaos, and yet they are gallivanting around telling others how to stop a war. A very inflated sense of their own importance. They to import grains? So get Zimbabwe working!

    • Craig A says:

      Exactly, they can’t even negotiate peace in their own countries, by they spend millions to try and negotiate peace in Russia. Putin must be shivering in his boots. I wonder if Zelensky or Putin have ever heard of the Comores? I am sure that the Comorian president will have a lot of sway in that ‘peace negotiation’?

  • Graham Nelson says:

    These clowns couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery.
    It’s good that the rest of the world gets to see who we are governed by.
    They screw up everything they touch.
    Roll on the 2024 election.

  • William Kelly says:

    Or do SA’ ‘elite’ have such insecurity that they feel the need to be seen as playing the ‘big man’ facade to the rest of the world, overstating our importance on the world stage in order to gain a measure of ‘relevance’? Yup. This.
    You’re welcome.

  • mike van wyk says:

    Judging by the performance of the SAPS during the KZN looting episode I would rather think that the weapons carried would be a danger to the SA contingent. Surely Putin was notified of the SA lead AU ‘peace mission’. Yet Russia ignored that fact launching attacks on the city. So much for the ‘love affair’ with South Africa. Wagner mercenaries within Northern Africa sketches exactly how Putin views Africa. Nothing more than a continent offering plenty to loot if you kill off the opposition. Ramaphosa’s cool reception in Kiev compared to the massive bear hug when meeting Putin explains everything. The optics don’t lie. Despite the misgivings, I must hand it to Ramaphosa that he did convey a firm message when addressing Putin. Too firm it seems. As the war – Russia’s war – continues to rage. The message conveyed to Putin and Kiev was filled with self-interest. Which was stop the war because its hurting Africans! There was no attempt to call out Russia directly as the aggressor, other than a vague side shuffle concerning the UN Charter. The entire ‘mission’ – I prefer bungled escapade – once again worked to embarrass SA and raise questions concerning SA’s position in relation to Russia. We simply not honest brokers and no one in the west is going to take SA serious as peace makers – no matter how many time Mandela’s name is dropped into the mix. I’m sure there are a number of red faces within ‘Pandora’s Box’.

    • rmrobinson says:

      This so-called ubuntu I keep hearing about was, in this instance too, nowhere to be seen. Not a word from Ramaphosa to show compassion with the Ukranian suffering at the hands of the Russians. Not the pillaging, the horror of bombing raids, the deaths, the rapes, the destruction of infrastructure, nothing could elicit the kind of shock and distress we witnessed when Ursula van der Leyen paid a visit to the Ukraine.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Bungle all you want, but do not mess with the Pols! You will not pull a fast one on them!

    • Graham Smith says:

      Exactly. They are not your sa fools.

    • Do not mess with anyone in Europe who supports Ukraine. SA has become a known Russia supporter and as such will receive no joyous welcome in affected countries. Poland shares borders with Ukraine and Belarus and is directly afflicted by the war. Poland and the USA have a close relationship – a smack on the hand for SA, supported by the USA.

  • André Pelser says:

    This debacle is simply a result of ignorance, ineptitude and arrogance – a total lack of understanding of international convention and protocol.
    The embassy there is useless, totally ineffective, like many others, notably the UAE en Washington.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    120 security detail. doubt whether Putin has that. what a bunch of pompous asses. as for the Presidents head of security, clearly he did not do his job correctly and should be fired. but in SA if you dont do your job properly you get made a cabinet minister. again SA disgraces itself !

  • Stephan Britz says:

    Looks like Wally was planning to invade Ukraine 🥴

  • Cedric Parker says:

    Shocking! We the tax payers of SA have to pay for this jaunt! We have much greater priorities than this. We are accurately seen as being on Russia’s side in this dispute – and so we have no credibility as objective peacemakers. No wonder our county is in a mess!

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    Dear government
    When you mess up (all the time) and get called out for it, it does not mean the other guy is a racist. It just means you were incompetent, corrupt or out of line.

  • Rob vZ says:

    Pretty much encapsulates the ANC project – entitled and incompetent. So embarrassing.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Perhaps Comores was nervous about a plane full of SA military staff with weapons. Dejavu

    • Sarah Crowe says:

      Reading this from abroad – you are much more laser focussed on the details inside SA – the mission is seen in a more positive light especially in central Europe where they have welcomed Ramaphosa’s intervention as an important first step to negotiate an end to this war.

  • Alastair Sellick says:

    Oh, the national shame seems set to continue.
    How embarassing.

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    How can a man on a suppose’d peace mission take arms to the invasionary force, in the name of peace? He is said to be a lawyer and with that all sorts of images and mindsets are conjured.
    What a disgrace. Our people will surely suffer sanction(s) of some sort, in consequence. He needs sanctions, along with the mob-leading ANC. He and the former presidents and their ANC mob-cohorts need sanctions and their international bank accounts frozen.
    Feeding arms, across international borders, with our own State President in close attendance? What can I, or anyone, say!! Words, in English, fail me!

  • Stanley Meares says:

    This trip was really just a damage control exercise to mollify the United States over the Lady R ship from Russia that docked in Simonstown and was allegedly loaded with SA weapons to assist the Russians in their war against Ukraine. It was a botched attempt to demonstrate our neutrality in the war. It convinced nobody least of all the Poles.

  • Johan says:

    Feels like a “My f*k Marlise” moment.

  • William Dryden says:

    One couldn’t make this up if they wanted to, calling them idiots is an insult to idiots.

  • John Pearse says:

    When we apparently still make some of the best sniper rifles in the world, can’t help thinking that between the army and the police, this wasn’t a case of using a diplomatic immunity ticket to smuggle 12 cases to Russia. This whole story does not smell right.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    You can’t make this s…t up!!

  • Gareth Murray says:

    Completely self-important and arrogant! ANC leaders seem to think they are globally important, when actually if one of them had to die no one would be able to tell what kind of impact they had on world affairs, they wouldn’t even register a mere blip.

  • rocheburgers says:

    Perhaps this whole fiasco was nothing more than an attempt to smuggle arms and ammunition into Russia.

  • Mike Waghorn says:

    Methhinks we are missing the point here. The “Security Detail” with some people having not been advised as travelling to Poland, and the 12 containers of combat weaponry = SA / ANC were intent on smuggling more weapons to Russia. This is not bungling. This was a covert attempt to assist Russia by bringing arms and personell to aid Putin in the war. (LadyR?).

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    Can somebody please explain the need for the security support team for our President requires the equivalent of an infantry company to do the job? They must have been falling all over each other!!!!!

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    This is very simple – Wally Rhoode is not competent to protect the President at all. This was not the first time he showed this – just look how he reacted to the theft at Phala Phala when Ramaphosa reported it to him. He should be replaced by somebody that knows what he is doing as soon as possible. I can’t see that ANY self-respecting country would have allowed that lot inside their territory – least of all the assault weapons. It is very clear that this was not clarified with the Polish or any of the other governments, because if it was, Rhoode would have known that it is unacceptable. All I don’t understand is that Ramaphosa is allowing this. Surely he learnt his lesson with what happened at Phala Phala? I am really starting to think that Ramaphosa is not grounded in reality, but seriously naive.

  • Michael Jones says:

    Perhaps it was another trip by the ”Ancient Order of Froth Blowers”. I don’t know if you remember them fro the ’70’s or early 80’s.

  • Luan Sml says:

    Unfortunately the average South African citizen has a huge trust deficit when it comes to our governments’ actions, as continuous shenanigans, lack of transparency and failure to act against blatant corruption has left them with little credibility… trust is built by actions over time!
    Such a shame that we must regard this whole peace mission with suspicion, much of it due to not taking a clear (or committed) stand on the Ukrainian war, the Phala-Phala and Lady R sagas…🤔
    Most times you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk…

  • says:

    You could never predict the level of crass stupidity and profligate waste of taxpayers money afforded by the ANC.

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    Ramaphosa goes to Russia to talk about peace in Ukraine (where, I would think, he has absolutely no credibility) but says nothing about the Russian influence in the civil war in Sudan when he gets to St Petersburg. The Sudanese rebels are Russian-backed because Vladimir wants a military base at the Port of Sudan to bolster his new world order idea. But Ramaphosa says nothing about what is happening on our doorstep, on our continent to Africans. Three thousand dead, hospitals bombed and destroyed etc. Instead, he decided to head off on a fool’s mission costing tax payers millions. He thinks that this mission will give him browny points in the West and somehow rescue AGOA – or maybe he doesn’t really think about that at all – who knows?. The security detail balls-up just shows how incompetent and arrogant we really are. Instead of admitting that the whole thing was badly organised we call the Polish authorities racist – we thought because we are South Africans and come from Mandela-land (long forgotten) everyone is just going to kiss our arses and let us on our way- we found there are laws and rules which have to be abided by. I mean seriously, we go on a peace mission with a Boeing full of arms. WTF!!
    This whole escapade is disgusting and makes me ashamed of our government and my country. It is exhausting, depressing, awful and a shameful thing being a South African.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    Too many people. too many guns. How important does Ramaphosa think he is to have so many security people, the cost of taking that many must be horrendous, especially as it was called a peace mission. Were they hoping to assassinate somebody. This really puts into perspective how wasteful and disorganised the ANC are

  • Jim F. says:

    TVP world, an English language Polish TV channel of exceeding wit and sarcasm is about to eviscerate South Africa in about an hour from now. Guaranteed entertainment and humiliation for South Africans. See it on YouTube.

  • Marko V says:

    You can tell by this photo that the delegates didn’t even bother to bring a bottle of Amarula, or even some biltong to share. Ag, let’s just rock up with lots of guns and “special” forces hey, they’ll appreciated that. These fools are so out of touch with reality.

  • Tim Jones says:

    A farce. And a national embarrassment. Another national embarrassment. And does the irony of arriving with 120 security personnel and heavy weaponry on a PEACE mission not occur to any of the self-important powers that be?

    The hubris of all this is breathtaking. The waste of money is exasperating, possibly in context, an act of aggression against the multiplying numbers of “the poor” in SA. And the claims of racism against our “representatives”? Well, that is just a nauseatingly reflex lazily reached for with routine predictability.

  • Peter Hartley says:

    More wasted tax payers’ money. When is this going to end? I suppose it won’t until we are a completely failed state!

  • Dane Du Plessis says:

    It is embarrassing to see our elected leaders blundering this way. Their actions at home are not inspiring any confidence either.

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