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I bet Putin won’t risk visiting South Africa because our democracy is just too unpredictable


Marianne Thamm has toiled as a journalist / writer / satirist / editor / columnist / author for over 30 years. She has published widely both locally and internationally. It was journalism that chose her and not the other way around. Marianne would have preferred plumbing or upholstering.

The Russian president won’t risk putting foot on our troubled soil because he simply does not trust South Africa. And given our country’s history, who can blame the man?

The International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin for war crimes aside, the Russian president, deep down in that old KGB heart, does not really trust South Africa.

Do you blame him?

Look what happened with former president Jacob Zuma and ye olde ruinous and secret 2014 nuclear deal.

Putin is a man of bold and swift action, as demonstrated by the invasion of Ukraine. Back when Zuma puckered the hot seat, Putin thought he had a deal. A face-to-face nuclear deal FFS, with South Africa and its “ruler” Zuma.

What do you mean it’s been cancelled? How?

Those (like myself) who are inclined to think that Putin will not risk putting foot on our troubled soil might very well win a wager with those who opine he will come, he will see, he will conquer, he will middle-finger everyone, with some ANC enthusiasts cheering from the sidelines.

War crimes?

Oh puhleeze … he is our friend, our comrade, our ghost-of-exiles-past, back in old communist USSR – the only country that helped us when the West (Thatcher and Reagan) called us terrorists.

That Russia today is an oligarchy with its deep connections to the Orthodox Church, a disdain for political and personal freedom and democracy, led by a slighted warmonger driven by grandiose history, is neither here nor there.

Russia, Schmussia

During the first five years of Soviet rule (1928 to 32), the Bolsheviks executed about 20 Russian Orthodox bishops and more than 1,200 Orthodox priests, and banned the publication of religious material.

Opium of the masses and all that.

The Soviet Union is today a landscape of nostalgia and faded glory for some in the ANC. It no longer exists.

There will be those who believe that a morally diminished ANC government will bend over backwards to welcome Putin, just like the party took one up the fundament for United Arab Emirates (UAE) president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

This more or less coincided with the dawning on South African authorities that the Gupta brothers had done a Thabo Bester, were no longer in jail in Dubai like we thought, and were now out and about in the world, spending the moolah they extracted from the public purse via ANC politicians.

The sheikh personalised the state-owned Bulembu Airport in the Eastern Cape so he could land his private plane there in April to visit his game farm in the region.

So if the UAE can screw us over, why not Putin?

Hang on a minute

In 2017 the judges of the ICC ruled that South Africa had erred in its decision not to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir during his visit to the country in 2015. South African courts found the same.

Bashir had been charged for allegedly orchestrating a campaign of murder, rape and pillage against the citizens of Darfur.

The admonishment disappeared into a moral abyss. It hardly touched sides with the government. There was no sanction at all.

And so when “pastor” Shepherd Bushiri too managed to hot-foot it out of South Africa when the law was breathing down his neck, with the alleged assistance of “government insiders”, no one was surprised.

Also remember when the ANC government allowed Zimbabwean thug, former first lady Grace Mugabe, to slip out of the country after she was charged for brutally assaulting a young woman partying it up with her reprobate sons somewhere in Gauteng.

Pesky democracy

When you run your country as Putin does Russia – like an unaccountable Mafia don with a vast network of criminal minions who seeks to rewrite history – a battered but still functional democracy can be a formidable and unpredictable hurdle.

That is why Vladimir Putin might not risk coming.

Russian ambassador Ilya Igorevich Rogachev told’s Annika Larsen this week that Putin would be coming.

In the meantime, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde announced that should Putin arrive in this neck of the woods he will be arrested. There is a squad of Metro Police who operate in the province. It might very well happen.

Putin will no doubt be tossing and turning, thinking about the tiny, teensy little NPO Earthlife Africa and two women, activists Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, who stopped the mighty nuclear deal in April 2017.

“Neither Zuma nor the Russian government appeared to fully appreciate the controversy that they had created or the scale of opposition to the deal,” wrote researchers Andrew S Weiss and Eugene Rumer in an analysis for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Secret weapon

Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene told the Zondo Commission that Zuma had been “fully committed to proceeding with the deal at the BRICS summit in Russia in July 2015, even though key financial details had not been resolved”.

Bada-bing. When financial details are not resolved it is not safe for Mr Putin.

The lukewarm relationship with Russia during the Mbeki era began cooking with gas during the Zuma era, wrote the Carnegie researchers, owing to the fact that “the Kremlin often takes advantage of cultures of corruption, and, to a certain extent, its efforts in South Africa fit this broader pattern”.

“The high-water mark for Russia-South Africa relations occurred during Jacob Zuma’s presidency (2009-2018).”

But that was then. This is now.

With general dissatisfaction all round with the ANC government’s performance in dealing with multiple crises, many of them self-made, the electorate is restless.

Tired of being screwed over, humiliated, used like doormats for those who have money to grease official palms in order to break the laws that keep a society functional, you never know who might invoke the law.

My bet, Putin won’t risk it. Our democracy is too unpredictable. And that, fellow South Africans, is our secret weapon. DM168

Marianne Thamm is the assistant editor of Daily Maverick.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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  • Bee Man says:

    I tend to agree with the author. Putin is playing these sycophants and nursery school level politicians like the proverbial fiddle. I bet he laughs out loud when he thinks about it. Meanwhile china brazil and india now codemming russia, our tin pots hang on.

  • Faan Geyser says:

    Wish I could share your optimism. Unfortunately, I think our armed and police forces are largely beholden to our wayward politicians (think Pandor, Modise, Cele). And instead will probably not be carrying out their constitutional duty. Putin, as an old dog with many tricks, and about eight of his own security guards will manage to wriggle out of any tight security situation!

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