RWANDA-SOUTH AFRICA

Shooting death of Rwandan exile in Cape Town could be Pandor’s first big diplomatic test

By Carien Du Plessis 3 June 2019

Photo: Rwanda's President Paul Kagame attends at the fifth meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development organized by Macedonian government in Ohrid

South Africa’s relationship with Rwanda could be tested again after an apparent hijacking-gone-wrong in Cape Town, during which Camir Nkurunziza, a bodyguard-turned-critic of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, was killed. Newly appointed International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor is faced with a tough task.

Around 5pm on the day Naledi Pandor was sworn in as Minister of International Relations, a Toyota Etios was allegedly hijacked in Goodwood, Cape Town. It’s still not exactly clear what happened before two men died at the scene last week, Thursday 30 May 2019, because much of the reporting on the case has involved pro- and anti-Rwandan government propaganda.

South African police also appeared to have fired shots, which has, in turn, triggered an internal investigation by the police watchdog, so they have issued limited information.

Events appear to have been as follows: There was a high-speed chase, a collision involving a number of other cars (there must have been rush-hour traffic at the time), and a shoot-out with the police. According to the official police account, two men died, but their identities were not mentioned.

Rwandan High Commissioner Vincent Karega confirmed to TimesLive the name of the driver of the hijacked car, Camir Nkurunziza. He was on the back seat (“Maybe they wanted to take him somewhere it is dark or so and dump him,” Karega speculated) by the time the Etios came to a stop and the shoot-out with the police ensued. It is alleged that Nkurunziza was killed in the crossfire.

The other person killed was apparently one of the hijackers, who reportedly tried to attack the police with a knife. He is also reported to have been a Rwandan national, but his identity is not known.

Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of the East African Community, Olivier Nduhungirehe, tweeted a somewhat different version — that Nkurunziza was actually the knife-wielding man who was killed by police while resisting arrest.

Once a criminal, always a criminal,” Nduhungirehe tweeted. Members of Kagame’s team, including adviser Yolande Makolo, have harshly slated reports suggesting that this could have been a political assassination. Seven people were taken for medical treatment, but no arrests have been made. Some reports suggest there were four people in the Etios, but it’s not clear what happened to the two survivors — if in fact there were survivors.

Nkurunziza, a former member of Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s guard, was not on good terms with the Rwandan government, since he was actively opposed to the changing of the country’s constitution after a referendum to allow Kagame to run for another term in 2017.

Karega told Daily Maverick in a WhatsApp response that Nkurunziza was “on refugee or asylum status”, and was under the protection of South Africa and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

South Africa is his country of adoption and protection,” Karega said. “We cannot make any statement on someone who did not enter with our passport and who declared himself a refugee and not a resident.”

Nkurunziza was also not registered with the Rwandan High Commission in Pretoria. In fact, Karega goes as far as to suggest Nkurunziza was “at war with [Rwanda] for Regime Change” (sic) by being affiliated to the opposition party in exile, the Rwandan National Congress (RNC) and the opposition armed wing, the National Liberation Front (FNL), which the Rwandan government accuses of terrorising villages in the south of the country. The Rwandan government regards the FNL and RNC as terrorist organisations.

The RNC is associated with former general Faustin Nyamwasa Kayumba, who lives in exile in South Africa and who was shot in the stomach in an alleged assassination attempt during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

Nkurunziza’s death comes a week after another RNC dissident, Callixte Nsabimana “Sankara”, who has since become a spokesperson for the FNL, appeared in front of a Rwandan court after being probed by authorities there for, according to the Rwandan daily The New Times, the “formation of an irregular armed group, complicity in committing terrorist acts, conspiracy and incitement to commit terrorist acts, taking persons hostage, murder and looting”.

He is reported to have pleaded guilty to terrorism charges and admitted to working with foreign governments, including Uganda, against Kigali. Nkurunziza had links to Nsabimana. In an interview, Kagame blamed Rwandan dissidents in South Africa for being responsible for his country’s strained relationship with Uganda.

Some sites opposed to Kagame, as well as some Ugandan publications, were quick to report Nkurunziza’s death as an assassination. Toronto-based government critic David Himbara wrote that he was suspicious of Nkurunziza’s death because it happened five days after Kagame was in South Africa to attend President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration in Pretoria.

He wrote: “It is widely known that whenever Kagame visits a country with a large Rwandan diaspora, he leaves behind operatives to terrorise folks opposed to his regime. Kagame’s adversaries have died in such circumstances in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. British and Swedish governments warned the Rwandan diaspora of the danger they faced from Kagame operatives.”

Himbara referred to the murder of former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya in January 2014, which is still the subject of a legal process in South Africa. South Africa is said to be circumspect about granting visas to Rwandans, especially those known to be loyal to Kagame.

The inquest into Karegeya’s death has caused diplomatic strain between Rwanda and South Africa, as has the sympathetic stance of South African authorities towards Rwandan opposition supporters. One of the reasons Lindiwe Sisulu was moved out of the international relations portfolio was, according to officials, to advance Ramaphosa’s plan of easing relations with Rwanda. Ramaphosa announced his intentions to put South Africa on a better footing with Rwanda during a summit on the African Continental Free Trade Area in Kigali in April 2018. The easing of relations will, presumably, also boost trade.

By December, however, there was a renewed spat after Sisulu revealed that she had met with Kayumba as part of her efforts to normalise relations with Rwanda. A Rwandan site, ostensibly run by Rwanda’s military intelligence, called her a “prostitute” and Nduhungirehe also tweeted messages that Pretoria found offensive.

Although the South African government hasn’t commented on Nkurunziza’s death, an official said it was being treated as “suspicious”, and this could again test relations between the countries. Pandor on Thursday admitted that diplomacy is something she would have to learn. The aftermath of this incident could prove to be a steep learning curve. DM

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