SA seeks normalised ties with Rwanda after Lindiwe Sisulu 'prostitute' insult

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Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu (Gallo)
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu (Gallo)

South Africa remains committed to normalising diplomatic relations with Rwanda, but insulting Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu isn't helping the cause as it only serves as a distraction.

This was the message from Sisulu's spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, as relations between South Africa and Rwanda soured after insults were aimed at Sisulu, which included being called a "prostitute" on what is believed to be a state-controlled website.

South Africa's diplomatic relationship with Rwanda broke down in 1994 when South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats after a failed attempt on the life of Kayumba Nyamwasa. The Rwandan authorities responded by expelling six South African diplomats.

Nyamwasa, a former general in the Rwandan army who fell out with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, sought sanctuary in South Africa since 2010. He also established an opposition party in exile.

In March this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Rwanda and together with Kagame, decided that relations should be normalised.

According to Mabaya, Sisulu views this as high priority and has established a task team to help her with this.

Last month, Sisulu said she met Nyamwasa and was pleasantly surprised to find him willing to negotiate with the Rwandan authorities.

That remark set off the criticism and insults from Rwanda.

'An appetite for insulting us'

The website Rushyashya referred to her as "Nyamwasa's prostitute" in a heading and there were tweets from Rwandan deputy foreign minister Olivier Nduhungirehe.

"The deputy minister has an appetite for insulting us on social media," Mabaya said.

The offending article has been removed but Nduhungirehe's tweet remains.

Since then, Rwanda's envoy in South Africa was told the remarks were unacceptable and was asked to stop it.

South Africa's High Commissioner in Rwanda, George Twala, had also been called to Pretoria for consultations on how best to deal with the normalisation process with Rwanda going forward.

"This was just an incident," Mabaya said. He added that there hasn't been another incident after they spoke with their Rwandan counterparts.

"We want to concentrate on the normalisation process."

He added that they could work faster and with more focus when not insulted.

"It is distracting us from the main task of normalising," he said. "We want to complete this as soon as possible."

He also said good relations between South Africa and Rwanda were important because there were growing economic ties between the two countries, it could boost tourism and there was also a growing academic relationship. 

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