On Saturday, 12 days after Russia invaded, South Africa’s minister of transport, Fikile Mbalula, tweeted to his 2.7 million followers that he was, without any context, in Ukraine.
The thing is: He wasn’t in Ukraine. He had no reason to be in Ukraine. And yet, he tweeted that he was in Ukraine.
Mbalula has served as transport minister in Cyril Ramaphosa's government since 2019. South Africans are struggling to understand why he would need to fly into an active warzone in Ukraine, or have any connection with Ukraine at all. Journalists have tried asking him, but he has simply refused to explain the tweet. In fact, when challenged at a recent press conference, Mbalula accused the media of being “disruptive” for wanting to know why he suddenly claimed for no reason to be in Ukraine in the middle of Russia’s invasion.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t his only bizarre tweet of the morning. Mbablula retweeted a post from the Russian embassy in South Africa that parroted Vladimir Putin’s false claim that Russia’s invasion is about fighting Nazis in Ukraine – a tweet and retweet that angered the German embassy in South Africa so much they responded to it by saying: “What [Russia] is doing in [Ukraine] is slaughtering innocent children, women and men for its own gain. It's definitely not ‘fighting Nazism’.”
For now, the South African government – which voted to abstain on the UN’s resolution to condemn Russia for the invasion – doesn’t appear to be at all curious as to why a cabinet minister pretended to be in Ukraine. Until they do, it’s likely the mystery will just roll on.