Handbag furore: Matter of principle
Johannesburg - The contents of International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane's handbag are not up for discussion, her spokesperson said on Friday.
"I can't believe you are asking that," Clayson Monyela said when asked why she recently refused to have her handbag scanned at an airport in Norway.
"It's not an issue we want to debate... She was strong and defended her principle, and we have moved on from there."
Monyela said the Vienna Convention exempted diplomats from luggage searches at airports, and the minister - as the country's top diplomat - was right to stand her ground.
"At every airport, no diplomats are searched. This is why she refused."
The minister's handbag drama in Norway cost South African taxpayers more than R200 000.
Nkoana-Mashabane, who was on a state visit to that country earlier this month, refused to have her bag passed through an X-ray scanner at an airport in Oslo, the Mail & Guardian reported.
As a result, she missed her scheduled commercial flight to her next diplomatic engagement in Bulgaria. A private-charter executive jet, which cost R235 343, was then hired to transport her.
It was unclear what she was carrying in her handbag and why she was keen to avoid security screening.
The Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus expressed outrage over the incident.
DA spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko said Nkoana-Mashabane should pay back the money out of her own pocket.
"Yet again, ordinary South Africans have had to foot the bill for the vanity and excesses of those who are meant to be public servants.
"Government ministers should be subject to the same security regulations as every other airline passenger, and there should be no provision that allows members of the executive to bill the public for their superiority complexes."
The DA also wanted her to reimburse her department for the cost of the flight she missed, as it resulted in her missing the meeting in Bulgaria.
"It is time for members of our government to understand that they are not more important than the citizens they serve," Mazibuko said in a statement.
"The handbag incident underscores just how out of touch this government is with the economic realities of the majority of South Africans."
FF Plus spokesperson Corné Mulder said the minister could have handled the situation differently.
"It is absurd that South Africa has to waste money because the minister insisted on her right to diplomatic immunity," he said in a statement.
"She could have seen to it that her political counterpart in Oslo was contacted immediately to resolve the situation."
She should have allowed her handbag through the scanner so as to not miss her flight, said Mulder.
He asked why the South African embassy in Oslo had not made prior arrangements to prevent the "embarrassing and expensive" situation.