South Africa and Rwanda have had strained diplomatic relations since 2014 after failed attempts to assassinate a former Rwandan army chief, General Faustin Nyamwasa Kayumba, who is in exile in South Africa.
General Kayumba is a former ally of Rwandan president Paul Kagame and they fell out in 2010 when he was accused of attempting to overthrow the Rwandan government. The military leader fled to South Africa where he survived a shooting outside his home in Johannesburg the same year.
He was tried in absentia by a military court in Kigali and sentenced to 24 years in prison. General Kayumba later survived two more assassination attempts on his life and the third, which happened in 2014, resulted in a swift diplomatic action by South Africa.
The government, under Jacob Zuma’s leadership, expelled three diplomats from the Rwandan embassy in Pretoria and one from the Burundian embassy suspected of complicity in the assassination attempts on Kayumba.
Rwanda also retaliated by expelling six South African diplomats sparking the over three-year diplomatic row which was softened in March 2018 when South African president Cyril Ramaphosa met Paul Kagame in Kigali during the African Union summit.
The two leaders agreed to normalize relations and tasked their foreign ministers to start the process. However, this process was thwarted after South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, was insulted by the Rwandan government officials.
Rwandan deputy foreign minister Olivier Nduhungirehe tweeted several posts about the minister which were deemed offensive. And the straw that broke the camel’s back was a story reportedly published by a Rwandan military intelligence website that called Sisulu a prostitute. The story was later deleted.
The insults from the Rwandan government officials are reported to be in reaction to a press conference held by Sisulu last month in which she said she had met General Kayumba and that he was ready to negotiate with the Rwandan government, reports Daily Maverick.
According to local media, South Africa’s High Commissioner to Rwanda, George Twala, was instructed to protest to the Rwandan government about the insults and Rwanda’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Vincent Karega, was summoned to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation headquarters in Pretoria to explain the insults.
Sisulu’s spokesperson Ndibhuwo Mabaya confirmed to the Daily Maverick that the normalization of relations has not been suspended as speculated by some government sources.
“The Minister has started the process to normalise and to consult all stakeholders in Government to make sure we are able to finalise this, and the insults and social media posts do not assist.
“When the High Commissioner Twala met with authorities in Kigali, we were promised that the insults will stop and the Deputy Minister will be talked to. We are unable to work and focus whilst being insulted,” Mabaya was quoted by the Daily Maverick.
Other Rwandan officials tweeted their displeasure of introducing negotiation with General Kayumba to the table.
“There have been no discussions so far apart from the meeting of two Heads of State. My counterpart and I were tasked to discuss ways of restoring our relations. This has nothing to do with suspected criminals,” says a tweet quoting the Rwandan foreign minister, Richard Sezibera.
Rwanda wants South Africa to extradite General Kayumba to serve his prison sentence. Meanwhile, Kayumba is actively campaigning against the Rwandan government with the opposition party, Rwanda National Congress, which operates outside Rwanda.
The two countries are yet to officially comment on the fate of the normalization of relations and the insults against the South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.