SA mutes its Burundi call for 'diplomatic' reasons

A man sets up a burning barricade to protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office. Picture: Reuters
A man sets up a burning barricade to protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office. Picture: Reuters

For “diplomatic reasons”, South Africa has toned down its public call on Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza not to stand for a third term.

President Jacob Zuma this week echoed the view of states in Africa’s Great Lakes region that Burundi should postpone its elections indefinitely until there was stability – a step down from his earlier call on Nkurunziza.

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region met in Luanda, Angola, this week and agreed to send a delegation of heads of state from South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to “visit Burundi in the shortest possible time to evaluate the situation and contribute to the peaceful resolution of the current situation”, said Zuma.

However, he did not repeat his line of 10 days before, when he said Nkurunziza should not run for a third term.

“It would be more appropriate and perhaps correct for him, even if he has won the constitutional point in court. But for the sake of Burundi, it would be good if he withdrew as a candidate so that Burundi cannot go to war again,” said Zuma.

At the time, the president appointed Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe as a special envoy to convey this message to Nkurunziza, but five days later the country was rattled by a coup attempt. The attempt was condemned in Africa and internationally.

However, South Africa still believes Nkurunziza should not run for a third term, but has toned down this call “to make it easier to negotiate with Burundi”, said a South African official.

After the attempted coup last week, Nkurunziza appointed a new foreign minister, Alain Aimé Nyamitwe, who is considered to be a loyalist.

His South African counterpart, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, has since had to be “diplomatic” in her criticism of Burundi “to open the door for dialogue with Burundi”, said the official. He said it would be difficult for her to talk to Nyamitwe if she was seen to be calling for Nkurunziza to step down.

Nkoana-Mashabane last week failed to directly answer a question from journalists at a press conference in Pretoria on South Africa’s stance on Nkurunziza’s bid for a third presidential term.

She said South Africa was “still hopeful that in the spirit of finding African solutions for African problems”, Burundi’s political problems could be resolved by its own people.

The Burundi issue is expected to be high on the agenda of the African Union (AU) summit – due to take place in the middle of next month – shortly after Burundi’s postponed parliamentary elections, but before its presidential elections later next month.

City Press understands that Nkurunziza has convinced fact-finding missions from a few east African countries that there would be more bloodshed if he stepped down than if he ran for a third term.

Nkurunziza has argued that if the Tutsi opposition took over, it could spark a violent retaliation by Hutus, who comprise 85% of Burundi’s population.

The AU has condemned the attempted coup as the continental body is strict on unconstitutional change of government and sanctions it with immediate expulsion.

Although a change in the constitution to extend a president’s term in power is also regarded as an unconstitutional change in government, the AU has been slow in acting against this.

Zuma was involved in brokering a peace deal for Burundi in 2000 and last week sent Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as a special guest to a meeting of the East African Community on Burundi.

South Africa’s ambassador in Burundi, Oupa Monareng, is also working behind the scenes to find a resolution to the problem.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees this week put the number of Burundians who had fled to the neighbouring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda since April at 112 000.

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