From repeatedly recalling their ambassadors to nearly severing diplomatic ties, South Africa and Rwanda relations could be among the most unpredictable on the continent.
Diplomacy between the two countries collapsed when Dr. Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor was South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, a pivotal docket in the ever collapsing relations between the two nations.
She is now back as new Foreign Affairs Minister at a time when relations are once again thorny, moreover under the same unresolved issues that would have been fixed long ago by her while under Home Affairs.
It is always Rwanda’s hope that for every change of guard at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Pretoria, translates into positive change in the relations between the two countries.
South Africa being the continent’s economic power house remains an important partner Rwanda would want to engage with, but the waters are not stable enough for this to happen.
The latest appointment of Dr. Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor as South Africa’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, under the new resized government of President Cyril Ramaphosa, offers yet another complex puzzle for Rwanda.
Between 2012-2014 Dr. Pandor was Home Affairs Minister when the relations between Rwanda and South Africa were completely freezing following assassination attempts on Kayumba Nyamwasa, a Rwandan dissident.
As usual, some Rwandan politicians expressed, in a sarcastic manner, their feelings about the character of Dr. Pandor.
“Congratulations Minister Naledi Pandor! Let’s make our relations great again!” said Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe shortly after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his new foreign affairs Minister.
Minister Nduhungirehe’s comment is cordial in text and diplomatic, but the reservations are deeply engraved in it.
Dr. Pandor’s position on matters with Rwanda is known, and there is no evidence of change.
Her selection for this docket therefore may not change much in the thorny and bumpy relations between her country and Rwanda.
For example, she has reservations about Rwanda invoking the UN Refugees cessation clause- this has since been another thorn in the relations.
During her tenure as Home Affairs Minister, Pandor said that her government would first conduct its own investigation into existing conditions in Rwanda and consult extensively with the local Rwandan community before making a decision on invoking the cessation clause.
Her office considered listening to Rwandan refugees’ concerns and fears of being returned to Rwanda, and sharing with refugees the government of South Africa’s position around the cessation clause, which it said clearly required to first articulate the reasons for the clause being invoked.
Towards the end of her tenure as Home Affairs Minister in 2014, it is when much of the relations between the two countries collapsed based on recommendations from her ministry, leading to the expulsion of several Rwandan diplomats by Pretoria.
She has been given a principle post at a time South Africa has revived trial inquest into the 2013 murder of Colonel Patrick Karegeya.
The inquest five years since it had stalled is considered a plot to disrupt efforts to repair relations between the two countries.
Rwanda is also concerned by the inability of Rwandans to get South African visas in Kigali, Rwanda.
It is yet to be determined under the new management of Dr. Pandor whether this Visa issue will be addressed in a different manner.
“We don’t deny South Africans visas to travel to our country, but the reverse to South Africa is not the same,” President Paul Kagame said in previous engagements with journalists.
President Ramaphosa in March 2018 said that the problem of Rwandans being denied visas to South Africa would soon become history after holding talks with President Kagame. This is yet to be realized.
Despite reappointing diplomats, South Africa is yet to appoint a visa official to Kigali, meaning that Rwandans still cannot get visas to South Africa.
It is still early to assess how Dr. Pandor will navigate the current concerns by Rwanda about South Africa hosting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) led by Kayumba Nyamwasa – a terrorist group that has an objective of overthrowing government in Kigali.
This RNC and FDLR issue has been at the centre of failing relations between Rwanda and Uganda – basically according to Rwanda, the current problems are born in South Africa, exported to next door Uganda from where they would extend their tentacles into Rwanda to destabilize peace and security.
Dr. Pandor has a big assignment in leading the reconstruction of ties between the two countries building on several demands that Rwanda has in the last few months communicated to her government.
For example last year, during the the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union in Kigali, President Kagame and his South African counterpart President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered Foreign Affairs Ministers to work on normalization of relations between the two countries.
Rwanda is concerned about South Africa accepting distortions propagated by Rwandan detractors based in South Africa, and media platforms associated with them.
About Dr Pandor
Born in 1953 Dr. Pandor is a strong mobiliser for the Ruling African National Congress Party and mostly honoured as comrade like most senior cadres of the party. She has served as cabinet minister since 2009 in different portfolios.
This new minister is a well-educated politician that acquired a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Education at the University of Pretoria (Tuks).
She holds a Master’s degree in Education policy and practice in multi-racial societies, and another in Linguistics from the applied linguistics perspective.
“I am a teacher by early training and am fascinated by education,” Pandor says, adding she chose education “because it is the discipline I have always had an interest in understanding further.”
Pandor is married to Sharif Joseph Pandor and has four children.
She converted to Islam after she met her husband while studying in Botswana, her in-laws gave her the Islamic name of Nadia. On her religious conversion Pandor said: “My parents said God is God”.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on May 30, 2019