The murder of a former Rwandan spy chief in SA highlights ties between the two governments, writes Peter Fabricius.
The most extraordinary thing about the murder of former Rwandan spy chief, Patrick Karegeya, in the Michelangelo Towers Hotel on New Year’s Eve, is how the Rwandan government has all but admitted responsibility for the crime.
President Paul Kagame told Rwanda’s leaders in a speech not to be apologetic about “what befalls the country’s enemies” and “we don’t seek permission to defend our country”, Rwanda’s Independent Magazine reported.
Karegeya was buried in Roodepoort on Sunday.
We knew already that Kagame was a ruthless man, of course.
In some Western capitals he still commands respect, and in the wider public he is probably still widely regarded as the hero who eventually halted the genocide of his fellow Tutsis by Rwandan Hutus in 1994.
History has rather overlooked the many atrocities committed by Kagame’s forces when they crossed the border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in pursuit of the fleeing Hutus after the genocide and exacted revenge.
It’s also almost certain that Kagame’s agents were responsible for the two assassination attempts on Karegeya’s associate, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, in Johannesburg in 2010.
Those crimes caused a substantial souring in relations between the two governments and a mutual withdrawing of ambassadors.
But the court case against the suspected assassins dragged on and the two countries decided they needed to work together, so they put the issue aside, appointed new ambassadors and got on with relations.
However, the court case resumes this week and if the preliminary indications from the earlier court appearances implicating the Rwandan government are confirmed, it is hard to see how Pretoria can fail to respond.
Likewise in the present case.
Four suspected assassins of Karegeya are reported to have been arrested in Mozambique, though the reports were denied, then confirmed and then apparently denied again by Mozambique police.
Something is clearly going on in Maputo, perhaps a complication in the efforts by South African authorities to extradite them. Or perhaps something more sinister.
If these reported suspects have indeed been arrested and if they are brought back to South Africa and stand trial, and Kigali is proved to be behind the murder, the cumulative impact of both cases on South Africa-Rwanda relations will be enormous.
The government has so far insisted that the murder does not affect relations, but that is clearly a provisional position, pending confirmation – or otherwise, obviously – of Rwanda’s complicity.
There is the hint of suspicion, too, that Kagame was retaliating against South Africa’s decisive military contribution to the UN Force Intervention Brigade which helped defeat the M23 rebels in eastern DRC, which he supported.
Kagame also clearly felt he owed Pretoria no apology because it gave Karegeya and Nyamwasa asylum, rejecting his demands for extradition, and furthermore allowed them to establish the Rwanda National Congress here, to seek his overthrow.
Whether that opposition includes forceful opposition is a moot point, though it is probably the key to deciding whether or not they violated the terms of their asylum.
Karegeya’s status in this country is, of course, academic now, but not Nyamwasa’s, which remains a sore point in relations.
Obviously, South Africa cannot hand him over to Kigali, where he is unlikely to receive justice.
Whether he should be allowed to plot against Kagame from here depends on whether or not the plots entail violence.
Perhaps Pretoria should now be looking again at a third option which remains on the table, one demanded by the Southern African Litigation Centre.
The NGO said his asylum should be revoked because of credible accusations of serious crimes against humanity levelled against him.
It suggested that South Africa should agree to one of the standing requests, from France or Spain, to extradite him to face charges of murder against their citizens – and also against Hutus in eastern DRC in the aftermath of the genocide.
That course of action would satisfy justice, forestall another embarrassing murder on our soil and remove a constant aggravation to relations.
* Peter Fabricius is Independent Newspapers’ foreign editor.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Indepent Newspapers.