What poison is at the heart of Mabuza’s Russian riddle?
The basic facts about the Veep's Moscow 'sick-leave' connection are lost among denials and distractions
Russia, wrote Winston Churchill, “is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. But Russia is an open book compared to the riddle, wrapped in denials, inside the cloud of smoke that is David Mabuza’s relationship with Moscow.
If you like your news sordid you’ll no doubt have followed the curious case of the alleged poisoning of our alleged deputy president, who, the story goes, was slipped something nasty at a birthday party in 2015, struggled to get adequate treatment in SA, and then jetted off to Moscow three months later.
That seems to have been the start of a beautiful friendship, or at least another beautiful friendship: having been discharged by Russian doctors, Mabuza hopped on a flight home with Duduzane Zuma aboard a Gupta-owned jet. (Nothing to see, folks.)
Yes, DD was back in the Motherland earlier this year to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his inevitable victory in Russia’s so-called “elections”. (Please, folks, move along, nothing to see.)
And now, it turns out, he’s been back yet again, this time on not-sick leave. (Really, I must insist that you walk on, this is all completely normal, really ... )
On the weekend Mabuza’s personal smoke-blower, Thami Ngwenya, angrily rejected suggestions that the Veep was ill, saying that “at no point” did a statement about Mabuza taking sick leave imply that he was sick. (Seriously, folks, I can’t stress enough how little there is to see here and how urgently you need to move on.)
Ngwenya’s explanation didn’t sit well with some people, specifically people over the age of three. Was Mabuza sick or not? And how does someone take sick leave when they’re not sick? Sensing that it had overstepped even its own limits of idiocy, the ANC sent in the heavy hitters this week. Chief whip Jackson Mthembu explained that only a “deranged person” would say such a thing, implying that nobody had seriously claimed that Mabuza was taking sick leave but wasn’t ill.
The smoke eventually swirled as high as parliament. Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the National Assembly who became famous for her impression of a doormat during Jacob Zuma’s catastrophic reign, weighed in to suggest that there was no reason to believe that there was crazy nonsense coming out of the office of the Veep.
“If we don’t trust the correspondence between the offices, we get into very troubled terrain,” she was quoted on Thursday as saying.
She is, of course, entirely right. If you stop believing things the ANC says you get into the very troubled terrain you and I call “being a sentient South African who has been awake for the last 10 years”.
But all of this is beside the point, because all of it is smoke intended to prevent us examining the very basic facts that lie at heart of this riddle wrapped in a mystery.
Because here’s the thing: if David Mabuza was poisoned in 2015 (and that’s a big “if”), either he’s getting medical treatment in Russia or he isn’t.
If he is, then he is demonstrating a profound lack of faith in SA healthcare, and his government has no business punting a National Health Insurance scheme before it improves our hospitals to a point where the deputy president is happy to be treated in one.
If he isn’t getting medical treatment in Russia, then he and his office are lying. And if they’re lying, what are they hiding? What is so secret that it needs to happen in Russia, where Putin can control press access?
Until we know the answers to these questions, the poison remains.