Ramaphosa’s protection force and SA crew ‘cleared to leave’ Poland, then grounded again
After nearly 20 hours of being stranded at Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special forces and the media contingent covering the African peace initiative to end the Russia-Ukraine war were finally given clearance to depart for their next destination.
However, shortly after passengers had fastened their seat belts in anticipation of the flight, they were informed of a sudden change and instructed to disembark.
Just come back home guys…as you always say, leave other people’s countries alone.
— Macmillan (@INB_MacMillan) June 16, 2023
SAA pilot Capt Mpho Mamashela, who was flying the chartered XS-SFX Airbus A340-300 intended to transport around 100 members of the president’s specialized protection team, initially confirmed receiving permission to depart on Friday.
Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and International Relations Director-General Zane Dangor were involved in ensuring the necessary clearances were obtained.
Amanda your article states that the Captain diverted the aircraft and landed in Warsaw instead of Rzezow.
So this means the original flight plan was to Rzezow. Diversion is not a decision that's taken lightly so what was the actual reason for that?
— Far from the Madding Crowd. (@blomnbeautiful) June 16, 2023
“I started my flying in 1982 and we are breaking a record,” said Mamashela.
He was referring to the number of hours spent on the aircraft waiting to iron out logistical and bureaucratic issues.
“The aircraft is not a problem. Everything that we are supposed to have done is being done. The whole issue is about the [peace initiative] mission. It’s at a level that is beyond me.
“My mission is to get the aircraft here safely and as long as you are on board, we give you SAA hospitality and make sure you guys are safe.”
In situations like these, Mamashela said it was all about patriotism and solidarity. “If you have to be here, then we have to be here.”
He said the flight was scheduled to return to South Africa on Sunday.
Mamashela lauded his crew, saying they had no choice but to remain with the passengers.
“One thing about South Africans, when we had the Olympics in Greece, we were with top business people and when we got there we found that the hotel was a dump.
“So we decided to make the most of it in South African style and had so much fun.”
He commended crew members who remained on the aircraft overnight with passengers while pilots got their 10-hour minimum required sleep. The crew ensured stranded passengers were fed and hydrated during the ordeal.
— Amanda Khoza – The Journalist (@MandaKhoza) June 16, 2023
Drama ensued in the early hours of Friday after a breakdown in relations between the South African and Polish governments over permits.
Head of the presidential protection services Maj-Gen Wally Rhoode accused the Polish government of “deliberately sabotaging” Ramaphosa’s peace initiative after the aircraft was detained on Thursday. He described as “racist” the behaviour of some officials.
Hours after Ramaphosa paid a courtesy call to Polish president Andrzej Duda, dramatic scenes unfolded on the tarmac of the airport.
Pointing to his colleague, Rhoode told the media: “She tried for four hours to get in here, she was strip-searched. It has never happened that we have strip-searched someone with a diplomatic passport just to get us out of here.”
He was referring to an incident in which a senior female PPS official was trying to organise accommodation for the police and members of the media. Shortly before the drama she entered the plane and informed journalists the police would offer accommodation to female reporters. She never returned.
“Now they say that we don’t have permits, we have permits. The only difference is that they are saying we cannot bring a copy of a permit, we must bring the original.
“Some of us have original permits and the embassy here (Poland) printed permits because they thought it was not necessary to have the originals here,” said Rhoode.
He added: “Now, all of a sudden we must have permits and are putting the life of our president in jeopardy because we could have been in Kyiv (Ukraine) this afternoon already.”
The aircraft was supposed to have taken off after noon, destined for another part of Poland.