Diplomacy prevails in apology

President Cyril Ramaphosa.
President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: GCIS

Sense has finally prevailed in an entirely unnecessary spat between the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) and various Western embassies in Pretoria.

News that envoys from Germany, the UK, the US, Switzerland and the Netherlands had written to President Cyril Ramaphosa demanding that he act on corruption or risk losing future foreign direct investment had our international relations up in arms. And rightly so.

The move was unprecedented and bordered on interference by the five countries on internal affairs. It is not so much what they said but the manner in which they went about it which sent out an unfortunate message that these countries have little regard for the strong diplomatic channels that exist between them and SA.

Their message - that there should be "a clear, unqualified and manifest political commitment to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and to honest and ethical business practices" if SA was to attract investors from their countries - could easily have been communicated using diplomatic channels.

By coming together and issuing a joint memo to Ramaphosa, they ran the risk of being seen as "giving instructions" to his government and hence weakening his hand in the fight against corruption. Ramaphosa's detractors in the ANC and some opposition parties were already accusing him of "taking orders" from Western powers, and the move played right into their hands.

The fight against corruption is important if our country is to be back on track, but those who seek to be our country's partners in this fight should avoid the kind of grandstanding that can only benefit those who want to justify their thieving ways.

We welcome the outcome of the embassies' meeting with Dirco yesterday in which the five countries admitted they handled the matter badly and that their intention was merely to "contribute to the dialogue on how South Africa can attract more foreign direct investment".

We hope that from now on these countries will follow the channels they have followed for most of the past 25 years and that Ramaphosa realises just how crucial it is for him to follow up his anti-corruption rhetoric with real action.