Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Khama, Zuma bond lost in translation

A bad case of communication breakdown between Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi and her South African counterpart Nkoana-Mashabane is believed to have strained relations between President Lt Gen Ian Khama and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma.

Venson-Moitoi explained to the Sunday Standard this week how her friendly suggestion to Nkoana-Mashabane ahead of President Khama’s visit to South Africa last week was misunderstood creating a rift between Botswana and South Africa.

Khama’s recent state visit to South Africa came at a time when President Zuma of South Africa was fighting a spirited campaign by opposition Democratic alliance to pass a vote of no confidence on him.

The debate in SA parliament in Cape Town coincided with a scheduled visit by President Khama. It was then that Venson-Moitoi suggested to her counterpart, SA Minister of Foreign affairs Nkoana-Mashabane that given the distance between Cape Town and Pretoria it might be wise to delay Khama’s visit until South African political authorities had resolved their internal matters. Venson-Moitoi was trying to avert an embarrassing situation in which President Khama would spend hour twiddling his fingers in Pretoria while Zuma was held up in a marathon no confidence debate a two hour flight away in Cape Town.

This was misunderstood by the South African media and some ruling African National Congress insiders as a suggestion by Venson-Moitoi that Zuma might not survive the no confidence vote mounted by opposition and as such Khama’s visit would be futile.

They interpreted this as an ultimate insult by a foreign minister of a neighbouring country.

“Far from it,” Venson-Moitoi told Sunday Standard.

“I was trying to be helpful by pointing out that President Khama would loathe waiting hours in Pretoria for people who at the time were debating a no confidence motion in Cape Town. I know President Khama very well. The longest he could wait in Pretoria would have been an hour. And he would come home. This in my opinion would cause diplomatic difficulties for the South African Government. And that was the spirit of my intervention,” she said.

Venson-Moitoi said her suggestion to Nkoana-Mashabane was that officials and ministers from the two countries could go ahead with their meetings and have the meeting of Heads of State postponed.

But as it is a diplomatic tiff is simmering between South Africa and Botswana over Venson-Moitoi’s suggestions.

“I know they got angry. But I was trying to save them from an embarrassing predicament. From where I was, this was an uncertain time and I felt uncomfortable taking my president into such a situation,” she said.

She said her view was that a no confidence motion on the floor of parliament could take forever. “And Khama would never wait for people who are in Cape Town. He would come home immediately. And that was the situation I was trying to avoid.”

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