Rwanda has welcomed a new law passed by South Africa barring refugees and asylum seekers from engaging in politics as a positive step towards ensuring that terrorist groups and anti-Rwandan government forces stop operating in the country.
On January 1, South Africa passed a law which makes it illegal for refugees in the country to engage in political activities related to their countries of origin or involvement in South African politics.
Under the new law, foreign refugees and asylum seekers who will engage in political activities risk being deported from South Africa.
“No refugee or asylum seeker may participate in any political activity or campaign in furtherance of any political party or political interests in the Republic,” the law partly reads.
Rwanda says the law could go a long way in halting activities of groups such as Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and other individuals who use their refugee and asylum status in South Africa to engage in terrorism activities and anti-Rwandan government propaganda.
The issue has been at the centre of frosty relations between Rwanda and South Africa, with Rwanda maintaining that the Southern African nation should not give a platform to Rwandan groups that deliberately engage in terror activities, wage a war against the government or slander the country and its leaders.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Amb. Olivier Nduhungirehe said that the law should end activities of Rwandan groups in South Africa.
“This is an important decision taken by the South African government. It will enable refugees to continue enjoying their status, without engaging in destabilising activities against their countries of origin,”
“We know that some of the leaders of the RNC terrorist organisation are based in South Africa and we hope that this decision will prevent them from continuing fuelling terrorist activities in our region,” Nduhungirehe said.
South Africa is home to Rwandan dissidents including Kayumba Nyamwasa and other members of RNC who, the Rwandan government says, are actively engaged in politics and other activities aimed at destabilising Rwanda.
Rwanda and South Africa have been trying to mend broken relations since March 2014 after South Africa expelled Rwandan diplomats except the High Commissioner, on suspicions of engaging in activities that violate the country’s sovereignty.
Rwanda retaliated by sending away South African diplomats in Kigali, apart from the High Commissioner George Nkosinati Twala. On Rwanda’s part, Vincent Karega also remained in South Africa.
South Africa also suspended visa issuance to Rwandans. In March 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa during a meeting in Kigali said that visa restrictions will be lifted but to date no action has been taken.
Despite President Paul Kagame and his South African counterpart meeting often and promising to get relations back on track, another setback seemed to emerge in December 2018 after South Africa reported recalled Amb. Twala over alleged insulting comments targeting the then South African Minister of Foreign Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu.
It was alleged that Ms Lindiwe was targeted by a Rwandan tabloid and a ‘Minister’ after she suggested that Kayumba Nyamwasa was ready to talk and return home. The development created a lull in the relations which were seemingly warming up.
In a press conference the same month, President Kagame said that he had personally looked into the comments made by Minister Nduhungirehe and found no insults, while the publications made by the tabloid could not be linked to the government.
Though President Kagame and President Ramaphosa have maintained close relations, there were not many developments to write home about in 2019 in the relations between the two countries.
During a diplomatic reshuffle last year, Rwanda appointed Eugene Segore Kayihura the new high commissioner to South Africa, replacing Karega who was moved to Kinshasa. South Africa however is yet to name a new envoy to Kigali.
Despite that, Amb. Nduhungirehe says relations between the two countries are on course and the new law should address some of the key issues that stood between the thawing of bilateral ties.
“The normalisation of South Africa-Rwanda relations is on track and of course, any decision to prevent RNC leaders from operating in South Africa will further improve those relations,” Nduhungirehe said.
In May last year, President Ramaphosa named a new cabinet, dropping Lindiwe Sisuluu from International Relations and Cooperation docket, replacing her with Dr Naledi Pandor.
She was transferred to the Ministry of Human Settlements, Water & Sanitation, creating a ray of hope in the relations of the two countries.
Reports had indicated that the former international relations minister had close links with Kayumba Nyamwasa, which created some conflict of interest in the issue.