Is South Africa ditching Botswana?

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Addis Ababa - Has South Africa ditched its support for Botswana’s candidate to become African Union Commission chairperson?

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has hinted as much during an interview at the weekend, when she said she had no specific preference for a candidate.

Elections for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s successor are set to take place on Monday afternoon.

Botswana’s foreign minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, who failed to muster enough votes at the AU summit in Kigali in July, was officially endorsed as candidate by the Southern African Development Community in April last year. As such, South Africa has to date publicly been backing her.

Nkoana-Mashabane told journalists as much ahead of the AU summit in July. But after Botswana openly critcised South Africa’s bid to withdraw from the ICC in October, she was tight lipped. 

Unofficially, however, South African officials are said to be more in favour of Kenyan foreign minister Amina Mohamed. South Africa and Kenya hold a common position on issues like the AU’s proposed mass withdrawal from the ICC, while Botswana opposes this.

'I don't have a favourite'

In the interview with Vauldi Carelse flighted on TVC News, Nkoana-Mashabane referred to Venson-Moitoi as the “southern African candidate”, but failed to overtly state that South Africa was supporting her as part of this.

“All I can say now…is may the best candidate win. And if you ask me a personal question, I would be celebrating if a woman comes back to the helm. But I don’t have a favourite, remember, I’m neutral,” she said.

Watch the video below as Nkoana-Mashabane speaks.

When it was pointed out to her that she could not both support a woman and be neutral, Nkoana-Mashabane said: “I’m on the side of women in everything I do because I’m a product of the women’s struggles. I’m saying personally, and I want to repeat I don’t have a favourite. I’m now here in my capacity as the minister of foreign relations and cooperation of South Africa, so I do not have a favourite.”

Other than the country’s stance about the AU, Botswana president Ian Khama’s absence from AU summits have irked leaders, who have accused him of not taking the continental body seriously.

Botswana’s Sunday Standard reported that Venson-Moitoi, during a campaign pit stop in South Africa, told journalists Khama "is not the country, he is not Botswana" in an apparent effort to separate the issues.

Khama has always sent representatives to AU 

"Khama has handed over the AU responsibilities to the vice-president (Mokgweetsi Masisi). He has always sent representatives to the summit," she said.

"The country has played its full role to the AU."

The paper reported over the weekend that the only sure votes from the SADC bloc for Venson-Moitoi could come from Zambia and Tanzania.

But according to the Zambian Observer, president Edgar Lungu has also broken ranks with SADC to pledge support for some of the other candidates.

Venson-Moitoi’s campaigners at the end of last week were telling observers that she had 25 votes from AU member states in the bag.

The male candidates for the AU’s top spot are Senegal’s Abdoulaye Bathily, Chad’s foreign minister Moussa Faki Mahamat and Equatorial Guinea’s foreign minister Agapito Mba.

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