A demarche-diplomatic spat with five western states

INTERNATIONAL Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu instructed her department to demarche the ambassadors from five Western countries who had sent a memorandum to the Office of the Presidency about their concerns for the country. Jairus Mmutle GCIS

The term demarche has its origin in French, the literal meaning of which is ‘step’ or ‘solicitation’ and has come to refer to, inter alia, a formal diplomatic representation or correspondence of the official position, views or wishes on a given subject from one government to another government or other governments or intergovernmental organisation, like the United Nations or the European Union. It is used to protest or object to action by a foreign government or governments.

The Daily News of February 4 reported that five western counties, the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland have written to President Ramaphosa warning him that foreign investment is at risk because of the country’s failure to prosecute persons involved in endemic government corruption. Furthermore, the said five governments also expressed serious concern relating to South Africa’s (SA) frequent changes in policies dealing with industries, including mining and the protection of intellectual property rights.

In response to the above letter written by the five government referred to and which is now in the public domain, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO), sent off a demarche, in which it noted with manifest disappointment the dispatching of a Memorandum to the Office of the Presidency by the Embassies of the five Western States, pointing out that such dispatch constituted a serious breach of established diplomatic practise that SA is committed to. In the note attention was drawn to the practice that all embassies, regional and international organisations formally accredited to SA are aware of this basic rule relating to protocol between states which it declares is a universal norm in interactions and communications between states. It emphasises that South African diplomatic missions abroad consistently observe this protocol by directing official communications to the respective foreign ministries in countries where they have accreditation.

The note further explains that the SA government is intensifying its endeavours to deepen and expand economic relations with a number of states around the world.  In this regard it is pleased with the enthusiastic response its efforts have produced so far. It says further that all the pertinent matters that have been raised by investors so far are being seriously addressed by the respective clusters of government departments. As a result the note declares that all the branches of our democratic state, inclusive of state agencies, are vigorously pursuing their respective mandates in order to address the current challenges.

The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ms Lindiwe Sisulu, instructed DIRCO to demarche the relevant ambassadors, for the purpose of discussing the substantive matters encapsulated in their correspondence, and to accentuate what constitutes acceptable diplomatic protocol in addressing such matters, which are obviously of a politically sensitive nature. In concluding DIRCO reminded all accredited diplomatic missions in SA to address official correspondence through the appropriate channels.

There are indeed two recent precedents for the demarche of the 3 February. The first related to the one sent to the Charges de Affairs (the second in charge) of the Embassy of the United States (US) in Pretoria on 14 January 2018 following the very disturbing and insulting comments attributed to President Trump. DIRCO intimated that it would provide an opportunity to the US Charges de Affairs (second in command) to explain the statement that by the American President that African countries, alongside Haiti, and El Salvador constitute ‘shitholes’ from where migrants into the US are undesirable.

Although DIRCO noted that President Trump’s tweet on 12 January 2018, in which he denied making the crude and virtually obscene statement, it noted further that his denial was not categorical, referring only to Haiti and not addressing the entirety of the very offensive statement attributed to him.

DIRCO made it clear that SA aligned itself with the statements issued by the African Union and the Africa group of Ambassadors to the United Nations in New York, that Africa is united in its affirmation of the dignity of all the people of Africa as well as the African Diaspora. DIRCO emphasised that relations between SA and the US, and indeed between the rest of Africa must be based on mutual respect.

The second of 15 March 2018 concerned that dispatched by the Minister Sisulu demanding a retraction of the controversial comments made by their Home Affairs Minister of Australia, Mr Peter Dutton,  relating to the South African land distribution process and negative influence it could have on white commercial farmers in our country who could be affected negatively by the ‘expropriation without compensation’ proposal and resulting polemic and that as a result the Australian Government was sympathetic to them and would be prepared to assist them as farmers in that country. It was communicated in no uncertain terms that South African Government was deeply offended by such statement and expected a full and immediate retraction. As a result the High Commissioner, Mr HE Adam, undertook to convey the message from the South African Government.

Most informed South African are horrified and deeply disturbed by the recent testimony presented to the Zondo Commission of inquiry relating to Bosaso involving high ranking civil servants, Ministers of State and the erstwhile President Jacob Zuma presented by, inter alia, Mr Angelo Agrizzi involving the extent and depth of endemic corruption in the civil service. There is no doubt the five Western countries and investors in them are equally alarmed.  In the words of Shakespeare ‘something in rotten in the state of Denmark’. It is very possible that there was a deliberate flouting of accepted niceties of protocol in order to bring home the acute seriousness of the state of corruption in South Africa and induce the Ramaphosa administration, which because the conflict between the two factions in the ANC, appears to be paralysed to take immediate and appropriate action to commence with of prosecution of those involved in it, regardless of their important rank in government or the ANC.

George Devenish is Emeritus Professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the Interim Constitution in 1993.