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Ramaphosa acts to smooth relations with Botswana after Bridgette Radebe controversy

Illustrative photo: South African Mining Development Association chairwoman Bridgette Radebe addresses the Cape Town Press Club on October 16, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. Radebe has asked President Jacob Zuma not to sign the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act Amendment Bill into law. (Photo by Gallo Images / Business Day / Trevor Samson)

President Cyril Ramaphosa quietly sent International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to Botswana this week to smooth the waters after a storm erupted about his sister-in-law Bridgette Radebe’s alleged interference in succession politics in the neighbouring country.

International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu met recently with Botswana’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi, an olive branch in hand, after reports that prominent South African businesswoman Bridgette Radebe got involved in the presidential campaign of a rival candidate, former foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi. Even though Radebe has downplayed her involvement in Venson-Moitoi’s campaign in the run-up to the Botswana Democratic Party’s elective conference earlier this month, the Gaborone-based Sunday Standard is this weekend reporting on its front page that Radebe is facing a possible travel ban to Botswana.

On Thursday Masisi posted the following on his Facebook page:

“This morning I received a special envoy of South African President, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, in the person of the Honourable Minister of International Relations & Cooperation, Hon. Lindiwe Sisulu at Office of President.

The special envoy conveyed a message from President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterating the long standing and excellent relations subsisting between Botswana and South Africa. The message assured that despite the recent media reports, relations between the two countries remain solid.

I further wished the people of the Republic of South Africa a peaceful and successful General Election coming soon. #MokgweetsiWaLona#MovingBotswanaForward #GoMasisi

While Masisi played open cards about the meeting, it was shrouded in secrecy from the South African side. There’s been a talk from the inner circle that the reports about Radebe’s interference presented Ramaphosa with a massive headache, as it is South Africa’s stated policy not to get involved with the succession politics in another country.

Sisulu’s spokesperson, Ndivhuho Mabaya, in response to WhatsApp questions to confirm the meeting and the contents thereof, curtly replied: “Greetings, when we want to say something we will issue a statement.”

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Khusela Diko referred the query back to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).

Radebe has long-standing mining interests in Botswana through Mmakau Mining, and told Daily Maverick last week she was exploring other opportunities with a company which has this month had its assets frozen in Botswana. The allegation was, however, that Radebe was “laundering” millions of pula through Avante Security Services for Venson-Moitoi’s campaign ahead of the BDP conference. Radebe denied this, and her lawyers have threatened to sue the Sunday Standard, claiming it incorrectly reported the amount Mmakau paid Avante. Still, Radebe admitted to being close to Venson-Moitoi since her university days in Botswana. Venson-Moitoi, who enjoyed the backing of former president Ian Khama, subsequently withdrew from the presidential race because she said she stood no chance after some of her key backers were blocked from attending the conference. Masisi, who stepped up to become president after Khama’s 10-year term in government office expired last year, emerged unopposed at the conference (Botswana is set to have general elections later this year).

Sunday Standard reports that Ramaphosa has distanced himself from his sister-in-law (Ramaphosa is married to Radebe’s sister, Tshepo Motsepe, while Radebe is married to a member of Ramaphosa’s cabinet, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe) and that South Africa would not interfere with any action Botswana chooses to take against Radebe. According to the report, foreign minister Unity Dow said the country was considering imposing visa restrictions against Radebe.

She would not be the first South African to face visa restrictions. EFF leader Julius Malema was restricted from entering Botswana in 2011 when he was still ANC Youth League leader after he said the league would form a “command team” to unite opposition parties in Botswana against Khama (calling for regime change in Botswana was one of the reasons why Malema was kicked out of the ANC).

Malema subsequently applied for a visa to enter Botswana but was rejected, with no reasons given. Five members of the EFF also feature on the visa restrictions list. The Bridgette Motsepe matter has threatened to bedevil South Africa’s relatively cordial relations with its neighbour.DM


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