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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GULSHAN KHAN/GETTY IMAGES
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GULSHAN KHAN/GETTY IMAGES

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s life was on Thursday “put in jeopardy” after highly trained members of his protection team, including the man leading the Presidential Protection Services, meant to provide critical security to the president in Kyiv, Ukraine, remained stuck in the plane due to aviation regulations and bureaucracy.

PPS head Maj-Gen Wally Rhoode has accused the Polish government of “deliberately sabotaging” Ramaphosa’s peace initiative after an SAA chartered plane ferrying about 120 special forces members and journalists was detained on Thursday.

The “road to peace” journey has been marred by challenges including technical issues, red tape and extreme logistical issues.

Hours after Ramaphosa paid a courtesy call to his counterpart, Polish President Andrzej Duda, dramatic scenes unfolded on the tarmac of the Warsaw Chopin Airport.

Pointing to his colleague, Rhoode told the media that: “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 where a senior female PPS official was trying to organise accommodation for the police and members of the media. Shortly before the drama ensued she had entered the plane and informed the journalists that the police will be offering accommodation to female reporters. However after leaving, she never returned to fetch the female journalists.

“Now they say that we dont 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.”

Rhoode went on to say: “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.

“This is what they are doing and I want you to see that when we started to open the packages, they wanted to rush to confiscate our firearms and that is why we had to put it back.”

Rhoode was referring to the 12 containers carrying weaponry SA brought along to protect Ramaphosa and his delegation.

Meanwhile, earlier Ramaphosa met with Duda and other officials, accompanied by international relations & co-operation minister Naledi Pandor, special envoy Bejani Chauke and legal adviser Nonkululeko Jele ahead of his peace initiative to bring an end to the war in Russia and Ukraine.

After their brief meeting, Ramaphosa’s Inkwazi Jet made its way to Rzesow, where Ramaphosa caught a train ride to Kyiv, Ukraine, where he is expected to meet Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.

Thereafter, he is expected to proceed to go and meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday.

Rocky road to peace

TimesLIVE reported earlier that the media contingent covering the mission travelled abroad with specialised police officers including members of the army, PPS and counter assault team among others, but were not allowed to disembark from the flight once it landed in Poland.

The crew of more than 120 people, which left SA at about 1.30am on Thursday, experienced challenges two hours before arriving in Warsaw. The flight was flagged in Mediterranean waters after it failed to get clearance to fly over Italian airspace. The plane flew about in circles about six times before it went back on the route to Warsaw.

The flight eventually landed at the Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland at about 1.18pm and while on the flight, the presidency tweeted that Ramaphosa had arrived for his working visit to the Poland and Ukraine.

The crew and media were meant to take another flight heading to Rzesow airport to drop off an advanced security team and some members of the media that were expected to join Ramaphosa on the Kyiv leg of the trip.

The media was informed that there were “issues” with the plane that was meant to transport them to Rzesow as the “chartered flight had not arrived”.

An hour into the wait, the media was informed that Ramaphosa had departed in his Nkwazi Jet to Rzesow to make his way to Kyiv, Ukraine.

Members of the special forces were still in the plane when Ramaphosa started his arduous journey to Kyiv.

During the wait, the cargo was offloaded while the media and special forces waited for clearance.

Ramaphosa’s security left the flight where they were briefed and upon arrival a source told TimesLIVE that the procured chartered flight had not arrived and the embassy had been roped in to assist.

After four hours of waiting, the pilot and crew came to the back of the plane where they were heard talking about the matter.

After the brief meeting at the back of the plane, the pilot announced that: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have experienced so many challenges and have done so much to make things work however I am very proud to be the captain of this flight and team of cabin crew.

“At this point in time I just wanted to inform you that given the challenges that we are experiencing here, this crew has decided that they are going to remain here on the plane with you, while we allow the pilots to have their minimum requirements by law of time off.

“As soon as we have that minimum time off required by law, they will be back and we shall then make a plan to complete the mission.”

TimesLIVE understands that the minimum required rest is about 10 hours.

A source told TimesLIVE that the pilot was to blame for the logistical nightmare.

“The pilot was supposed to head straight to Rzesow but he diverted to Warsaw.”

TimesLIVE understands that a fight then ensued between the SAA crew because some of the members wanted to go to sleep because of aviation rules.

The special forces were then faced with a predicament of how to get to Kyiv in time to support and protect the president on the journey.

The source said: “One of the options on the table was to procure the Russian plane UR-CBG flight parked at the Poland airport to fly us to the border of Ukraine and then take a bus to Kyiv.”

By 6pm Ramaphosa made his way to Kyiv with the special forces members left behind on the tarmac.

By 2am SA time, the security personnel and the media had been stuck inside the plane for about 12 hours.


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