Members of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's security team who were due to accompany him on his mediation mission to Ukraine on Friday were detained in Poland, according to officials from both countries, provoking a diplomatic incident.
Mr. Ramaphosa's head of security, General Wally Rhoode, accused the Polish authorities of being "racist" and of "endangering" the life of its president, after his men were blocked on arrival at Warsaw's Chopin airport.
The Polish government reacted on Friday by dismissing these statements as "inane", explaining that some of the people on board the plane from South Africa did not have weapons permits and were therefore not allowed to disembark.
"They were not allowed to leave the plane with their weapons. They considered that they would remain on board", said Stanislaw Zaryn, a government official from the Polish special services.
The charter flight had left Pretoria early on Thursday with some 120 people on board, including members of the South African security forces and journalists who were to follow President Ramaphosa on his trip to Kiev as part of a peace mediation mission led by African leaders.
Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in the Polish capital on Thursday aboard the South African presidential plane Inkwazi, then travelled by train to Kiev, where he arrived on Friday, according to the presidency.
The incident at the airport angered General Rhoode, who spoke at an impromptu press conference on board the charter plane.
"They're delaying us, they're putting the president's life at risk," the general said in a video posted on Twitter.
"They say we don't have permits, we have permits," he said, while admitting that some members of his team only had copies of the necessary papers. "See how racist they are," he said.
A little later, President Ramaphosa’s spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, described the incident as "regrettable", but added that it had not compromised the President's security.
"The rest of the mission is going well and as planned", Mr. Magwenya said, adding that "the President has arrived safely in Kiev".
South African officials are in talks with their Polish counterparts to break the deadlock and allow the security team and journalists, who are also being detained, to continue their journey.
According to TimesLive, a South African news outlet, SAA pilot Capt Mpho Mamashela, the man flying the chartered XS-SFX Airbus A340-300 meant to have transported about 100 of the president's highly specialized protection team on the peace mission, initially confirmed receiving permission to depart on Friday.
Minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni and international relations director-general Zane Dangor were roped in to ensure the necessary clearances were issued.
“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.
On Friday afternoon, some journalists were allowed to disembark after more than 24 hours on the tarmac.
After Kiev, the African mediators are due to travel to north-west Russia to meet Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg on Saturday.