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Sisulu backs Tanzania on detention of journalists

South Africa

ANGELA QUINTAL IMBROGLIO

Sisulu backs Tanzania on detention of journalists

File Photo: Then Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu addresses the audience during the opening of the new African National Congress (ANC) Keiskammahoek branch on April 21, 2017 in King Williams Town (Photo by Tebogo Letsie/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The South African government has accepted the Tanzanian government’s explanation for its arrest and interrogation of South African journalist Angela Quintal and her Kenyan colleague Muthoki Mumo in Dar es Salaam last week.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told a press conference in Pretoria on Monday that her government accepted that the Tanzanian government had been entitled to act against Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo because they had entered Tanzania incorrectly on visitor or tourist visas while actually intending to do business in Tanzania. Their business was to interview local journalists and media organisations, apparently about a missing journalist.

Quintal, a former editor of the Mail & Guardian, Witness and Mercury, is Africa programme director at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Mumo is the Sub-Saharan Africa representative there. They were taken from their hotel rooms last Wednesday evening by Tanzanian officials and interrogated for five hours before being returned to their hotel after intervention by the South African High Commissioner to Tanzania, Thami Mseleku.

At first their passports were not returned to them but, after they were returned a few hours later, they both left the country.

Sisulu was asked at a press conference in Pretoria on Monday if she was happy with the Tanzanian response to the incident. She said she was, because Quintal and Mumo had entered the country on visitor or tourist visas but had then had interviews with journalists.

Under Tanzanian law that is working and so they should have indicated so,” she said.

It has been reported that the two media activists were interrogated by Tanzanian intelligence officials, not immigration officials. Sisulu and her officials disputed this, saying they believed the officials were part of an immigration department investigation unit.

Asked by Daily Maverick if she did not think the response of Tanzanian officials had been in any case heavy-handed if this was just about an alleged infringement of immigration regulations, Sisulu said she did not think so, as the officials had been concerned about what Quintal and Mumo were doing in the country.

In her press conference, she said the government would report back if it discovered anything more about the incident.

The CPJ officials were evidently investigating the disappearance a year ago of investigative journalist Avory Gwanda who had been writing about political killing in the Kibiti area south-west of Dar es Salaam.

At her press conference Sisulu also disclosed that the controversial bid by Saudi Arabia to buy a stake in the South African government arms manufacturer Denel was still under consideration by both sides. Many concerns have been expressed that the deal could aggravate the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and its allies have intervened militarily in a civil war against Houthi rebels who toppled the government and are being backed by Iran.

Sisulu said at a previous press conference that the Saudi bid for a stake in Denel as well as proposed sales of South African weapons to Saudi Arabia would have to be vetted by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), a minister-level institution which must ensure that arms are not exported to countries where they could contribute to human rights violations or stoke conflict.

But she told journalists after this Monday’s press conference that in fact the NCACC does not have powers to vet investments such as that proposed by Saudi Arabia. Its powers only extend to vetting exports and imports of weapons.

Sisulu also noted that SA had in fact been selling arms to Saudi Arabia for several years. But she said the issue had become controversial recently because of the murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Sisulu also confirmed that she and her Rwandan counterpart had been tasked by their respective presidents to normalise relations between the two countries, which relations have been strained since 2014. That was when South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats and one Burundian diplomat accomplice for an attempted murder on dissident Rwandan General Faustin Nyamwasa Kayumba, in Johannesburg. Rwanda retaliated by expelling six South African diplomats.

This was the last straw for Pretoria after two previous attempts on Kayumba’s life and the murder of his colleague, former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya, in a plush Sandton hotel on New Year’s Eve, 2013. Rwanda retaliated by accusing Pretoria of harbouring dissidents it said were plotting to overthrow the Rwandan government.

Last week, Randburg Chief Prosecutor Yusuf Baba announced that the inquest into the death of Karegeya would begin on 16 January 2019 and that he would question over 30 witnesses to get to the bottom of the killing. Karegeya’s family and fellow members of his and Kayumba’s political party, the Rwandan National Congress, are convinced that the Rwandan government ordered the assassination and that the inquest will make this clear.

Sisulu insisted though that she did not think the inquest would upset the efforts by the two governments to normalise relations. If anything it would underline to the Rwandan government why the South African government had acted as it had. Sisulu disclosed that she had met Kayumba to discuss with him Pretoria’s plans to normalise relations with Kigali. She said she had been “pleasantly surprised” to discover that he was ready himself to negotiate with the Rwandan government to try to resolve his issues with it.

Kayumba, once very close to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and a former chief of staff of the defence force, fled to South Africa in 2010 after a major fallout with Kagame. The first attempt on his life was in June of that year when he was shot as he drove up to his home in a Johannesburg suburb. The Kagiso regional court convicted several Rwandan and Tanzanian men of the attempted murder and suggested that someone in Rwanda was behind the crime, but without explicitly naming the government.

Sisulu said Pretoria and Kigali had not yet discussed Kigali’s expected demand that South Africa should curb Kayumba’s political activities in South Africa as a condition for normalising relations.

But if Rwanda did raise that concern, South Africa would raise its own concerns, she said. DM

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