South Africa treading lightly on Rwanda in Congo

DIPLOMATIC ties between South Africa and Rwanda are to be tested anew following this week’s capture of Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by M23 rebels, believed to be supported by Rwanda.

South Africa’s relations with Rwanda soured in 2010, with Pretoria recalling its ambassador to Kigali after the attempted shooting of an exiled Rwandan general, Kayumba Nyamwasa, in Johannesburg.

“The challenge for South Africa is that its relationship with Rwanda is very fractured. Just recently relations were renewed. Yet now, we have a tense situation in the DRC. South Africa will be very cautious not to upset either country,” Cameron Jacobs, a director at Human Rights Watch’s Johannesburg office, said.

South Africa has a contingent of troops as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo.

A conference on Africa’s Great Lakes area would be held tomorrow in Kampala.

Mr Jacobs said he thought South Africa would choose to work through the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) as opposed to intervening directly into the Congo.

“South Africa is most likely to act through Sadc,” he said.

“I do know that South Africa’s department of international relations has been monitoring Rwanda’s actions in the DRC ,” Mr Jacobs said.

Keri Leicher, an analyst at Johannesburg-based Executive Research Associates, a political risk and labour consultancy, said South Africa “will take the diplomatic route”.

“As the current chair of the African Union Commission, (SA) will seek to resolve the matter through dialogue, with Uganda possibly playing the role of mediator,” she said.

“Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, has already said that she cannot indicate whether (additional) South African troops will be sent into eastern DRC,” Ms Leicher said.

“In this regard, the South African National Defence Force is already in the country operating under the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force known as Monusco. These forces will therefore take their cue from the UN even though the DRC’s Foreign Minister, Raymond Tshibanda, recently asked for South African assistance in the crisis,” said Ms Leicher.

She also said in the short term South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe could offer unofficial assistance to the Congo.

Regarding possible threats to business and South Africa’s interests, she said: “Theoretically, a rebellion of this sort should pose a threat to business interests in the region.

“However, it is important to note that M23 has been operating in eastern DRC for over eight months and has not posed a significant risk to the mining industry to date.”


Business Day