Johannesburg - South Africa’s fallout with Rwanda – Pretoria’s greatest diplomatic crisis in many years – was expected to deteriorate further with the expected recall of the high commissioners from both countries.
President Jacob Zuma is also likely to call Rwandan President Paul Kagame soon to protest against his alleged assassination campaign against dissidents in South Africa which sparked the row.
Pretoria threw out three Rwandan diplomats and one Burundian diplomat this week, accusing them of involvement in the third assassination attempt on dissident former Rwandan army chief General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa in Johannesburg this week.
Rwanda retaliated by expelling six South African diplomats.
The fact that a Burundian diplomat had also been expelled for “collaborating” with the Rwandan diplomats only emerged on Saturday. A South African official said Burundi had not retaliated because the evidence against its diplomat was “solid.”
Members of the Rwandan community in Gauteng said on Saturday they were delighted at the expulsion of the Rwandan diplomats, especially Didier Rutembesa and Claude Nikobisanzwe, who they said had been terrorising the community.
A member of the community, who did not want to be named said among other things, the two diplomats had been putting pressure on members of the community to act as spies for the Rwandan government, threatening to harm their families back in Rwanda if they did not comply.
The community member said the reason Nyamwasa and his family were not killed by Rwandan government assassins on Monday night was that the police had received a tip off and so had moved them out of their safe house in Johannesburg.
So they were not at home when the would-be assassins came looking for them.
They overpowered a South African police guard and stole his pistol but did no other harm, according to the police.
The incident was “the last straw” for the South African government, officials said, coming after two previous attempts on Nyamwasa’s life in 2010 and the murder of his fellow dissident and former military intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya in a Sandton hotel room on December 31.
A South African official said that security agents had discovered that three Rwandan and a Burundian diplomat had been involved in Monday’s assassination attempt and so they expelled them on Wednesday.
The Rwandan government retaliated on Friday by expelling six South African diplomats from Rwanda, leaving only High Commissioner George Twala.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo tweeted that; “We have expelled six S. African diplomats in reciprocity & concern at SA harboring of dissidents responsible for terrorist attacks in Rwanda.”
The Rwandan courts had earlier found both Nyamwasa and Karegeya guilty of conspiring to commit terrorist attacks such as hand-grenade explosions, in Kigali. They fled to South Africa which gave them political asylum.
South African officials said on Saturday the next move would probably be to recall Twala within a day or two. They expected Rwanda would retaliate by recalling High Commissioner Vincent Karega.
“It’s not very often that we have such a serious fall-out with a fellow-African country,” the South African official said.
He said this was the worst row since 1995 when then president Nelson Mandela persuaded Commonwealth leaders to suspend Nigeria after it executed nine dissidents led by Ken Saro-wiwa.