SA, Rwanda work on strengthening relations

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) in Kigali on Sunday. Picture: Supplied

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (left) with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (right) in Kigali on Sunday. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 8, 2024


By Kelvin Jakachira in Kigali, Rwanda

Amid signs of thawing relations between Rwanda and South Africa, President Paul Kagame has hailed South Africa for helping his country to find its feet in the aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 which claimed the lives of over one million people in 100 days of blood-letting.

On his part, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was among world leaders that attended the 30th commemorations of the Genocide against the Tutsi, known in Rwanda as Kwibuka30, held on Sunday in Kigali.

Ramaphosa later held a press conference where he revealed that “wrinkles” in the relationship between South and Rwanda were being “straightened out”.

At the commemorations, Kagame paid tribute to South Africa, thanking the southern African country for standing with a shattered Rwanda that had been reduced to ground zero in the aftermath of the genocide.

While recognising countries that helped Rwanda during its dark days, Kagame made special reference to South Africa thanking the country for its contribution towards Rwanda’s recovery from the Genocide against the Tutsi.

“A notable example of solidarity came to us from South Africa, one among many,” Kagame said.

The Rwandan leader said as South Africa ended apartheid and elected Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected president, in Rwanda the last genocide of the 20th century was being carried out.

He said the new South Africa paid for Cuban doctors to help rebuild Rwanda’s shattered health system, and opened up its universities to Rwandan students.

Kagame said among the hundreds of Rwandan students who benefited from South Africa’s generosity, some were orphaned survivors; others were the children of perpetrators; and many were neither.

“Most have gone on to become leaders in our country in different fields. Today, they live a completely new life,” he said.

Kagame’s kind words for South Africa and Ramaphosa’s presence at the Kwibuka30 signals a thawing of relations between the two countries which have faced periods of strain since 2013.

Both countries had tit for tat bouts when both countries expelled diplomats from each other following the death of Rwanda’s former head of intelligence Patrick Karegeya at an upscale hotel in Johannesburg.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have been working on thawing relations between the two countries. Picture: Supplied

South Africa accused the Rwandan government of involvement in the assassination of the dissident, an accusation that was vehemently denied by Rwanda.

South Africa was accused of blocking Rwandan citizens from entering its country.

The two states moved to normalise relations but with no major breakthrough.

However, the deployment of a Southern African Development Community intervention force in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo further strained relations between Kigali and Pretoria.

The SADC force is led by South Africa.

Rwanda expressed disquiet with the deployment saying the South African-led SADC force would work hand in glove with the genocidal Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), an ally of the DRC.

FLDR is made up of remnants of the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi. The FLDR is also involved in the killing of Congolese Tutsis in eastern DRC in what has been described as another genocide being perpetrated against the Tutsi.

The FLDR is fighting to topple the government of Rwanda led by President Paul Kagame.

South Africa, Malawi, and Tanzania have committed troops to the SADC mission in the eastern DRC known as the SADC Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC).

Rwanda Defence Forces spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Kabera told journalists that the context around their concern about SAMIDRC was that they would be fighting alongside the genocidal Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FLDR), an ally of the DRC.

Kabera highlighted that FLDR was bent on distabilising Rwanda and as such, when SAMIDRC works with them, it presents a challenge.

At the press conference held after the commemorations, Ramaphosa noted with happiness Kagame’s tribute to South Africa saying:

“That in many ways goes to demonstrate a very good and special relationship between our two countries. A relationship, which over the years, yes, has faced some challenges,” Ramaphosa said.

“He and I, from the time I became President have always sought to find ways of straightening out the wrinkles in our relationship and last night I had an extensive discussion with him about how we can refashion our relationship and on a bilateral basis deal with some of the issues that have to do with visas that have to do with travel and we believe that definitely we are going to get on the way of rekindling, rebuilding that relationship.

“I say rekindling because that is a relationship that is in existence and relationships between countries. Sometimes they face challenges and they wrinkle up but those wrinkles will be straightened out.”

Speaking on the DRC issues, Ramaphosa said: “Yes, we did speak about challenges that are prevailing now as a result of the situation in the eastern part of the DRC and how the region, SADC can work towards installing peace.

“We all agreed that peace was an essential component of fostering the development of this part of the continent and that in doing so we should bring the conflicts happening in the eastern part of the DRC to an end and also whatever actions that are going on to also destabilise Rwanda through the incursions of the FDLR,” Ramaphosa said.

He added: "There are a number of forces that operate in this area and we agree that a peaceful political solution is the best option to any military action.”

* Kevin Jakachira is an independent journalist based in Kigali, Rwanda.