Pandor denies SA government is helping Islamic State fighters return from Syria
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor has denied that her government has assisted any South African Islamic State fighters to return from Syria. But it is helping women and children ‘refugees’ to do so.
Reports this month indicated that the government was repatriating hundreds of South Africans and their families, who for years had fought for and aided Islamic State in Syria. The Sunday Times said in its report that Pretoria had provided them with new identity documents and a means to resettle.
The paper said the repatriations had been done through Pandor’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Home Affairs, with the approval of the State Security Agency (SSA). The repatriations had begun in 2019, shortly after Islamic State’s caliphate in Syria and Iraq collapsed. It added that none of the returning IS fighters had been prosecuted.
“The repatriations have met stiff resistance from SAPS and Hawks officers investigating terrorism cases,” the paper said. “Anti-terrorism officers say repatriations are ‘growing SA’s IS ranks’, with police unable to effectively monitor returnees because of a lack of resources.
Asked about this on Tuesday, Pandor said, “There are no hundreds of Isis fighters or even one that have been assisted by the security agencies to return to South Africa.
“What there are, are women and children who are in a refugee camp in northern Syria that we would like to get back to our country. But we don’t have hundreds of Isis fighters who have been brought back to South Africa,” she insisted.
Pandor was speaking at the University of Cape Town on the subject “Africa in 2063 — Removing obstacles to Prosperity”. This referred to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, an initiative launched in 2013 by South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, when she chaired the African Union Commission, to achieve a peaceful and prosperous continent in 50 years.
Pandor also answered questions on other topical foreign policy issues, including the status of efforts by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to broker a national political dialogue in Eswatini where unprecedented violence, rioting and looting erupted in June last year during pro-democracy protests.
In November last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa met Eswatini’s King Mswati in Eswatini and announced afterwards they had agreed that SADC would help facilitate a national dialogue to address the crisis.
However, the dialogue then seemed to stall. It was initially on the agenda of a SADC summit in Malawi last month, but was then removed from the agenda at the last minute, prompting speculation that Mswati was reneging on his agreement to hold the dialogue.
Pandor recalled at UCT that Ramaphosa had announced that SADC would develop the terms of reference for the national dialogue which it would provide to Eswatini to help it conceptualise an inclusive national dialogue.
“We have adopted that terms of reference. It’s been agreed to by the summit that was held in Malawi and we have submitted the terms of reference to the government of Eswatini and to his majesty the king.”
But Pandor said the Swazi government had asked for an opportunity to study the terms of reference further and so had also asked not to attend the summit or to have Eswatini on the agenda, but to be given more time to reflect on the terms of reference and to discuss it as the next SADC meeting.
Pandor also reported on progress of the initiative to normalise relations between South Africa and Rwanda which have been soured by alleged Rwandan government assassinations or attempted assassinations of its political opponents in South Africa — and by Rwandan accusations that Pretoria is harbouring these opponents and allowing them to plot the violent overthrow of the Rwandan government from South African soil.
In 2014, South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats after the country’s former intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya had been murdered in the plush Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton and after a fourth attempt had been made on the life of former Rwandan military chief Kayumba Nyamwasa.
Rwanda retaliated by expelling even more South African diplomats from the embassy in Kigali. One effect of the expulsions was that visa services were disrupted, complicating the travel of visitors from either country to the other.
Asked about this at UCT, Pandor said there had been good engagements between the two governments, including between herself and her counterpart and between their various intelligence chiefs.
“And I think we are now discussing a solution to the consular services because that’s the key issue,” ensuring that Rwandan nationals “can travel to South Africa and South Africans to Rwanda in a manner that both countries are satisfied” and the countries respect and assure each other’s security.
However Pandor did not say if the two governments had also addressed the fundamental underlying issues, of Rwanda allegedly trying to kill its opponents in South Africa – or South Africa allegedly harbouring “terrorists” plotting to topple the Rwandan state.
Pandor noted that the African Union’s Agenda 2063 envisions a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development, an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the African renaissance.
“The vision for the continent is one of good governance, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law, peace and human security and people-driven development,” she said.
Pandor said Agenda 2063 also identified flagship projects to propel the continent towards sustained development and prosperity. These projects included an extensive infrastructure build, the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area, a single currency, cyber security and the establishment of Encyclopaedia Africa, among other projects.
AU member states were expected to adopt these aspirations and contribute to their implementation. A 10-year implementation plan was in place and the AU Commission was monitoring its progress.
Pandor observed that implementation — rather than the drafting of more ambitious plans and projects — was Africa’s great challenge. She noted, however, that Covid had disrupted Africa’s implementation of Agenda 2063. When South Africa took over the chair of the AU in February 2020, President Ramaphosa had outlined SA’s strategic priorities for its tenure.
These included silencing the guns, advancing inclusive economic growth and development, expanding continental trade, largely through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, strengthening democracy and good governance and combating violence against women and girls.
Then Covid struck and the focus switched almost entirely to fighting the virus. One of the many lessons gleaned from the pandemic was the urgent need for African countries to strengthen their comparatively weak health systems. DM