Frosty Rwanda, South African ties thawing in leaders’ Sochi meeting?

Saturday October 26 2019

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) with his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame during a discussion on the sidelines of the Russian-Africa Summit in Sochi on October 23, 2019. The planned appointment of new ambassador to Rwanda has eased tension with South Africa. PHOTO | URUGWIRO


The frosty diplomatic relations between Rwanda and South Africa appear to be thawing.

On Wednesday, on the sidelines of the Russian-Africa Summit in Sochi, President Paul Kagame and President Cyril Ramaphosa held private talks aimed at forging better diplomatic ties.

The talks in Sochi were preceded by yet another private meeting last week between President Kagame and Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s Minister for Energy and special envoy of President Ramaphosa, where according to sources, the discussions sought to pave the way for South Africa to run a functioning embassy in Kigali.

Government sources further told The EastAfrican that a new South African representative to Rwanda was last week revealed to Rwandan officials but the name was not disclosed to the public until the nominee presented credentials to Kigali some time “before the end of October.”

The new appointee will replace George Nkosinati Twala—who had represented South Africa in Kigali since 2012 but was recalled early this year at the peak of heightened tensions between the two countries.

This is the first positive development since February and comes eight months after the South African embassy in Kigali fell vacant, and to date offers no consular services.


Verbal exchanges

South Africa’s decision to “put on hold” diplomatic ties with Rwanda followed a spat of verbal exchanges between their officials, in which the former claimed that Rwanda’s government-leaning media had insulted its former Foreign Affairs Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Despite these positive steps towards normalising ties, South Africa has since 2014 suspended the issuance of visas to ordinary Rwandans, following the killing of Rwanda’s former Intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya in Johannesburg.

Following renewed investigations into Karegeya’s murder this year, South African prosecutors in June issued arrest warrants for two Rwandan citizens —Alex Sugira and Ismael Gafaranga—who are suspected to have been involved in the murder.

Government officials declined to comment on whether the arrest warrants were among the issues discussed between President Kagame and President Ramaphosa in Sochi.

Rwanda last year accused the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs of “choosing to believe its enemies who live in exile,” noting that such a stance had frustrated attempts to normalise bilateral ties.

Kayumba's extradition

The genesis of the bad blood between the two countries goes back to South Africa’s granting of asylum to Kayumba Nyamwasa, Rwanda’s former army chief of staff who has lived in South Africa since 2010.

Rwanda wants him extradited to face charges related to terrorism and treason.

Kayumba—who has survived multiple assassination attempts in South Africa—is behind the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), which has been accused of recruiting rebels across Africa to wage war against the Kigali government.

He is also a strong subject matter in the long-standing rift between Rwanda and Uganda, with Rwanda accusing Uganda of providing support and recruitment cover to his RNC rebels.