International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has defended her controversial interview with Al Jazeera this week, during which she became angry with the interviewer and strangely stated that she had a hole in her head.
Nkoana-Mashabane became the butt of many jokes after the interview was aired, in which she suggested Al Jazeera journalist Jane Dutton was not qualified to ask her questions because she had not suffered through the same experiences as herself, a black woman. Dutton is a South African.
In an interview with City Press, the minister insisted that she only reacted to the presenter, who was “combative”. She also said she reacted that way because Dutton had not asked questions that she had expected and had “sounded like a member of the opposition party”.
She said Dutton spoke like someone who did not understand how black South Africans had lived.
“We were on a state visit with the president and I was informed that the interview would be about our visit to Qatar, and about our priorities for the visit. But nothing we had been prepared to talk about was forthcoming,” she said.
When asked why she spent so much time speaking about herself rather than about foreign affairs issues, Nkoana-Mashabane said she was defending the country.
“I am a diplomat and one of the responsibilities is to defend your country. So when I was asked questions such as when is the president resigning, I was like: ‘How do I go all the way to Qatar to talk about the resignation of a leader?’”
She said that the questions were combative and dismissive of everything government had done.
“I think, as a journalist, [Dutton] could have been more professional and asked questions in a professional manner. She interjected all the time and I kept asking her to allow me to finish my answers.”
However, Dutton told City Press that hardly anyone can describe her tone as combative.
“If anything, I was soft on the minister, giving her a platform to my very broad questions around current affairs in South Africa.
“Nothing I asked could be described as tricky or unexpected. One must assume that as a high-profile minister who represents the country on the international stage, she would be prepared for any line of questioning.”
Dutton added that the minister did not raise any concerns after the interview.
Nkoana-Mashabane, who said she had watched the video of the interview, said Al Jazeera had apologised to the South African ambassador in Qatar for asking a South African to interview her.
Meanwhile, Nkoana-Mashabane told City Press that government was still looking to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ANC made a decision at its national general council meeting last year that government should begin the process of withdrawing from the ICC because it believes the ICC had lost direction.
Last year, the North Gauteng High Court ordered the South African government to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he was in Johannesburg for an African Union summit, but he was able to leave the country.
The court ruled that government had acted unconstitutionally when it did not arrest him.
“When we joined the ICC, we had high hopes that it would do away with impunity and dictatorships, but I was personally disappointed,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.
She was disappointed when she attended an annual meeting in Geneva to assess the Rome Statute to find that only 10 ministers out of 122 member states turned up for the meeting.
“There was not a single member from the Western states. This means there is no review of the Rome Statute.”
South Africa had not yet withdrawn from the ICC because “there are many other African countries that want us to coordinate with them”.
She said human rights cases reported to the ICC regarding Israel and Afghanistan had not been investigated.
“But with Africans, they really become overzealous.”
Al-Bashir recently attended the inauguration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and was not arrested, despite the country being a member of the ICC.
As her parting shot, Nkoana-Mashabane told City Press: “I am very sweet if you want me to be sweet. If you fight, you will also find the activist in me.”