South Africa has recalled its envoy to Rwanda ‘for consultations’ over comments directed at its Foreign Affairs minister Lindiwe Sisulu.
South African media reports indicated that while President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government was ready to normalise ties with Kigali, but the process had been put on hold over what the former said were insults targeting Ms Sisulu, by sections of government-leaning media in Kigali.
Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe confirmed to The EastAfrican the recall, but did not comment further on the relations between the two countries.
“Yes, the ambassador, (who was the Dean of Ambassadors) told us that he was recalled,” Mr Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican.
South Africa’s Daily Maverick reported that Pretoria had officially protested to Kigali over insulting comments targeting Ms Sisulu, particularly by the Rushyashya tabloid.
The article, which was published last month, a day after Ms Sisulu said that she was ‘pleasantly surprised’ that Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, the dissident former Army Chief of Staff, was willing to negotiate with Kigali, was taken down but the South African government had already taken note.
Accusing the minister
South African officials confirmed that while they were willing to continue the rapprochement, they would not do so amid insults.
Several Rwandan government officials, including Foreign minister Richard Sezibera and his deputy Nduhungirehe, also spoke out strongly against Ms Sisulu’s suggestion of talks with Gen Nyamwasa, who they describe as a ‘criminal’.
Despite taking down the article referring to Ms Sisulu, the Rushyashya has continued to run stories accusing the minister of being involved with the Rwandan opposition members.
According to reports, South Africa had taken issue with comments from Rwanda, including tweets by Mr Nduhugirehe that if the former wanted to negotiate with a convicted criminal engaged in subversive activities against Rwanda, it should go ahead without involving Kigali.
In March, presidents Paul Kagame and Ramaphosa directed their Foreign ministers to start to normalise ties between the two countries, but the process was yet to take off 10 months later.
South Africa's Foreign ministry's spokesman Ndibhuwo Mabaya, confirmed to the Daily Maverick that Mr Twala had been instructed to protest to Kigali, while Rwanda’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Mr Vincent Karega, was also summoned to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation headquarters in Pretoria, to explain the insults.
“That process requires that we must have reviews and assessments. And yes; we are not happy with the social media insults from the deputy minister and we have expressed that to the Rwandan High Commissioner in South Africa last week. We called him in.
“Our High Commissioner also met with the authorities in Kigali before he came back for consultations. He indicated that we are very unhappy with the tone of the social media posts and that we want them to stop immediately. They are undiplomatic and foreign to our relationship,” Mr Mabaya told the Daily Maverick.
Values and principles
Efforts to get a comment from Mr Twala were futile as his Rwandan number was off.
Last week, the Head of South African diplomacy, Mr Clayson Monyela, said they were ready to press the reset button on the relations, but that it would not be at the expense of the values Pretoria holds dear, including the right to life, officials said.
Pretoria and Kigali were attempting to mend ties which broke down in 2014 for the second time after an attempt on the life of the exiled Gen Nyamwasa, leading to South Africa expelling Rwandan diplomats. Rwanda retaliated by sending home South African diplomats.
The incident took place just months after the murder of the former Rwandan head of External Intelligence, Col Patrick Karegeya, in a plush Johannesburg hotel on the New Year’s Eve on December 31, 2013. Fingers were pointed at Rwanda, but Kigali denied the accusations.
Mr Monyela said that relations between the two countries have been characterised by tensions but pointed out that a solution would be found, but not at the expense of the values and principles that his country holds dear.
Presidents Kagame and Ramaphosa met on the eve of the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina two weeks ago and, among other things, discussed ties between the two countries.
Observers, however, say hurdles remained along the way with Kigali reluctant to accept some of the proposals, including holding talks with Gen Nyamwasa and other exiled opposition members who had approached the South African government.
Kigali maintains that the existence of dissidents in South Africa threatened the relations between the two countries, yet Pretoria argued that the said individuals lived as refugees.
The opening of an inquest into the murder of Col. Karegeya, slated for next month, was likely to further slow down the rapprochement.