Putin statement catches Luthuli House off guard

ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula’s office (SGO) has been left embarrassed after President Cyril Ramaphosa kept it out of the loop about the withdrawal of  Russian President Vladimir Putin  from the Brics Summit scheduled for next month in Johannesburg.

So humiliated was  the  SGO in Luthuli house that officials rushed to presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya  to seek urgent clarity about   the matter.

Insiders, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said the government’s announcement about Putin’s withdrawal  did not only come as “breaking news”  but also as “a bombshell” that left them with egg on their face in front of inquisitive guests.

When the news was announced in the media, the governing party’s communications team scurried and called an impromptu briefing as it appeared to be ambushed. “The ANC could have prepared a holding statement so that when the news broke, the party was ready for action,” said an insider.

“Under the circumstances, Mbalula would have been roped in to address the media and handled difficult questions”

In the corridors of Ekurhuleni’s Birchwood Hotel,  where the governing party held Brics dialogue, critics questioned why the decision was  announced in the middle of the dialogue.

“We do not know how this came about. It’s as if someone was grandstanding. It was a shocker par excellence,” said a key dialogue participant.

Another Luthuli House apparatchik decried the strange approach by the government, describing it as “the liberalisation of the state”.

The ANC only released a formal statement after 8pm on Wednesday, about seven hours after the presidency made it public.

In a one-page statement, party spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said as Putin’s replacement, Russian foreign affairs minister Sergey Lavrov, would bring invaluable insight.

Bhengu-Motsiri said the Presidency’s announcement also ended months of international speculation.

Another Luthuli House staffer said Mbalula was unprepared and had to own up to the announcement on stage. “Considering that the ANC is the centre of power, it should have been briefed in detail.

“Evidently, not even the ANC’s alliance partners knew the presidency would close the Putin chapter.

SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila told Sunday World it was disappointing Putin was left with no choice but to stay away.

“It’s disappointing that Russia finally had to come to this conclusion because we could not give the appropriate [safety] assurances as South Africa”.

Those sympathetic to the presidency said a decision was taken a while ago to let the government handle all communications related to the Putin question. The ANC decided to step back, said the source, referring to an incident when the ANC and the government gave contradictory messages.

Then the ANC spoke about ceding the summit hosting rights to another country, but the government said no such discussion had taken place.

The person said at the process level, Ramaphosa would have, always, kept the governing party’s top seven abreast of the issues. “Mbalula would have always been aware of the direction in which the issues were heading,” said the person.

Diplomats told Sunday World as far back as April, Putin’s party, United Russia, decided he should not bother coming to SA.

Sources said the ANC had to make extra efforts to get the United Russia delegates to attend the Brics party dialogue.

“Putin was always doubtful. This thing about him being told not to come originates from the government, not the ANC.”

Government insiders said the DA’s court challenge to confirm Putin’s imminent arrest forced the presidency’s hand.

This is after the justice department filed an affidavit confirming it had petitioned the prosecuting authority to issue Putin’s arrest warrant.  The Internation Criminal Court  issued the arrest warrant earlier this year relating to his alleged crimes against
humanity in Ukraine.

Mbalula feigned ignorance yesterday. “We knew. We were not in the dark; the president briefed us properly, and it was before the day of the announcement. Union Buildings and Luthuli House are aligned.

“It was not a shocker to us. I am in charge of Luthuli House.”

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