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Johannesburg - At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda a horrified missionary was famously reported as exclaiming there were devils left in hell and they had all gone to Rwanda.
The political legacy of that horror now appears to have moved to greater Johannesburg, as came into focus this week with the apparent assassination of shadowy former Rwandan spymaster ex-Colonel Patrick Karegeya in lurid circumstances in a room in Sandton’s top-end Michelangelo Towers Hotel.
Though the one-time head of Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame’s sinister external intelligence operation was apparently strangled – a bloodied towel and curtain cord were discovered in the hotel room’s safe together with the lifeless body on New Year’s Day – detectives were also investigating the possibility he had been drugged before the actual commission of the murder.
While the South African government has yet to point a finger of blame at Kagame’s government and officially continues to investigate the killing as an ordinary and not political murder, details that have come to light around Karegeya’s last hours strongly suggest a connection with the Rwandan regime.
According to Karegeya’s political associates, at the time of his death Karegeya had been in the company of a Rwandan national, a businessman called Appolo Kiririsi Gafaranga. A figure with a chequered history – a poly-linguist and dealer in grey weapons, and also drug trafficker convicted under UK law – Kiririsi had apparently convinced Karegeya of his bona fides as a fellow conspirator against Kagame’s authoritarian rule.
Though as yet no evidence has come to light of the presence of accomplices in the murder, Karegeya’s close associate and controversial fellow Rwandan dissident and former army chief General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa has said there was evidence that “no less than three or four men” had been present at the killing.
Rwanda has emphatically denied any involvement in the murder.
The country’s high commissioner to South Africa, Vincent Karega, this week told sister paper, The Star, it did not make sense to blame his government for Karegeya’s death.
“Why would we have waited six years?” Karega asked, referring to the years Karegeya had stayed in South Africa.
Meanwhile allegations have surfaced in intelligence circles of a series of high-level meetings in the area of Gikondo in Rwanda late last year – including a briefing by Kagame himself on December 20 – at which the assignation was apparently planned and directed. Involving a hand-picked group of close Kagame associates, including members of his immediate family, the claimed killing network is allegedly co-ordinated by the head of Kagame’s military intelligence, Jack Nziza, and has been linked in the past to several kidnappings and attempted assassinations both inside Rwanda and in other African states, notably Kenya and Tanzania.
The dissident exile publication Ikaze Iwacu goes so far as to name the alleged six-man hit squad dispatched from Kigali to back up Kiririsi on his mission.
The same general network has been linked to two attempted assassinations on Nyamwasa in South Africa in 2010. In the same year, Karegeya – who had been living in exile in South Africa since fleeing Rwanda in 2007 – together with Nyamwasa and two other prominent former Kagame insiders established the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) in Johannesburg as an opposition in exile to their former political master.
Two men arrested in connection with the attempted assassinations will appear in court later this month. In the wake of the attempted assassinations and the ongoing refusal of the government to accede to Rwandan demands that the dissidents be extradited to face Rwandan justice after being convicted in absentia, diplomatic relations descended to an all-time low with the recall of South Africa’s ambassador to the Great Lakes country. More recently, South Africa emerged as a major driving force on the African stage in the deployment under the UN banner of a peace-keeping mission in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with an unprecedented mandate to use force against militants threatening stability in the region. Especially targeted by the highly effective UN intervention force – whose major military asset emerged as the South African Rooivalk helicopter gunship – was the M23 rebel grouping. Though Rwanda continues to deny any involvement in M23, observers as well as UN analysts have consistently linked the insurgency to Kagame’s expansionist ambitions.
For its part, the Kagame administration – which, despite mounting evidence of human rights abuses and Machiavellian intrigue, presides over a strongly performing economy – accuses South Africa of meddling in its internal affairs and sponsoring its enemies. The claim is backed up by the fact that until 2011, Karegeya was under official South African protection and quietly furnished with political asylum. In the fallout from the 2010 assassination attempts, Nyamwasa continues to fall under the protection of the South African security apparatus, and no action has been taken against the RNC since its formation.
The International Crisis Group said Karegeya’s killing raised more questions on the safety of exiled Rwandese. The group’s Piers Pigou said South Africa and Rwanda “should engage” on the attacks.
“All we hear from the Rwanda government is denials and more denials. But there seems to be a pattern of attempts on lives of Rwandese in exile,” Pigou said.
In the meantime, the official protest against the dissident grouping has been strengthened by reports of links between the RNC and Hutu billionaires and other fugitive power-players linked to the Hutu genocide of Tutsis in the 1994 horrors.
In offering shelter to the Rwandan dissidents, South Africa also appears to be playing host to what seems a deeply sinister spook culture. The role attributed by Kagame’s critics to Jack Nziza was pioneered by Karegeya in his position as head of Rwanda’s external intelligence – co-ordinating cross-border kidnappings and alleged assassinations, before falling out with the Tutsi strongman in 2006 and serving an 18-month sentence in prison before his South African exile.
In 2011, a curious report appeared in the Burundian press around the death in Johannesburg of Rwandan singer Jean Christophe Matata on a concert tour in Johannesburg. Though no foul play was reported at the time, an unnamed woman said the death had followed a sequence of events springing from a sexual triangle with Karegeya as the third point of reference.
As she narrated it, she had revived, on a clandestine basis, a long-standing relationship with the singer, while at the same time offering sexual favours to Karegeya, whom she described as her “Boss” since he paid her for sex.
Thinking her dalliance with Matata was unknown, she went to see Karegeya, who confronted her with details of the illicit affair. He then proceeded, she says, to say he suspected Matata had been sent as a spy by Kagame to infiltrate his networks, and he was looking to access evidence to this effect.
At this point, she claims, he tasked her with slipping a drug (which he provided) into the singer’s drink at their next meeting, which would knock him out and allow for his baggage to be searched while he slept.
This, the woman claims, she did and Karegeya’s agents duly searched Matata’s effects. The plan, as she understood it, however, went awry when the singer never recovered from the sleeping draught, finally booking himself into hospital in Johannesburg where he breathed his last.
Hawks spokesman, Paul Ramaloko, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But on Friday he told the media the hunt for the killer of Karegeya was continuing. - The Sunday Independent