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World

Western envoys apologise to SA for diplomatic gaffe

President Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

Pretoria, Tuesday

The embassies of five Western powers in South Africa have expressed regret over a breach of protocol after last week’s memorandum warning President Cyril Ramaphosa to take action against the perpetrators of corruption or risk losing foreign direct investment.

In a joint unprecedented memo, the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland wrote to President Ramaphosa saying that his ambitious investment drive could fail unless South Africa started to take a “clear, unqualified and manifest political commitment to the rule of law”.

Noting its “disappointment” this week, the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) said the memo to the office of the presidency was “a departure from established diplomatic practice”.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also took aim at the five countries, referring to them as foreign “imperialist forces”.

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The party expressed deep concern at the ‘interference’, saying South Africa was a sovereign state and had always respected the laws of these ‘imperialist’ countries.

“We do not appreciate a threatening and bullying tone. These countries decided to communicate directly with the President of our country via their embassies, an act that can be deemed as undermining and dismissive of diplomatic practices. They leaked their letters to the media, suggesting they had less than honourable intentions,” the ANC said in a statement.

In a joint apology, the five countries admitted they did not follow diplomatic procedure.

“We are happy with the positive engagement we have had with the South African government and civil society partners. We have made it clear that we had not sent any official document to any branch of the South African government.”

In a separate statement, DIRCO confirmed the envoys had committed to following proper diplomatic channels and protocols in future.

“The heads of the diplomatic missions regretted the misunderstanding and further clarified that the discussion paper had been sent to the Presidency to contribute to the dialogue on how South Africa can attract more foreign direct investment,” read the statement.

The five nations account for 75 percent of foreign direct investment in South Africa and expressed concerns about “obstacles” to external investment. The governments of these countries wrote to the presidency through their missions in Pretoria.

Their memo came after shocking revelations that senior government officials were paid by private companies in exchange for state contracts. The revelations came through the ongoing State Capture inquiry.

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