By Prince Kurupati
South Africa recently declared all Malawian diplomats stationed in the country persona non grata and gave them 72 hours to leave South Africa. The decision was reached after investigations by South Africa implicated the Malawian diplomats in illicit booze trade.
In a statement issued out on Friday 11 June, 2021 by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Clayson Monyela, the country’s presidium reached the decision to declare all Malawian diplomats stationed in the country persona non grata after they were found “guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol”.
The statement went on to state that South African authorities undertook an intensive investigation into flouting of diplomatic privileges by the Malawian diplomats and the findings reached were conclusive hence the decision taken to expel the diplomats. The statement also stated that similar investigations are currently underway into similar transgressions by other missions stationed in the country. If found guilty, the missions will also meet a similar fate.
The Malawian government was quick to respond to the decision taken by South Africa saying it was appalled and expressed “regret” over the conduct of the Malawian diplomats implicated. Malawian government stated that all of the implicated individuals upon reaching home will face further disciplinary action.
The decision to expel the Malawian diplomats came just a day after the South African government had taken a similar action in expelling several diplomats of Lesotho over the same booze trade issue. The South African government said that it found clear evidence that the diplomats from Malawi (just like Lesotho) were bringing alcohol into South Africa without paying duty and then reselling it in bars and restaurants. In an effort to combat the spread of the corona virus, South Africa has been limiting the sale of alcohol with most outlets including township taverns banned from operating.
According to the Vienna Convention of 1961, diplomats have certain privileges, and one of the privileges is that of not paying tax in the hosting country. Alcohol happens to be one of the items that diplomats can bring into a host country without paying taxes.
Malawi’s former high commissioner to South Africa John Chikago said the investigations by the South African authorities hold water owing to the huge quantities of alcohol the diplomats were bringing into the country. Owing to the sheer high quantity of the alcohol the diplomats brought into South Africa, the argument that the booze was for consumption does not make any sense.
“We buy with the diplomatic card, and you can’t just buy any amount, unless you have a party at your house or there is national day (celebration) for your country… But if it is normal consumption, you should buy only one bottle or two bottles. But they were buying cartons. How? So, it appears there was a syndicate,” Chikago said.
Chikago went on to state that the debacle does not just embarrass the implicated individuals but it also embarrasses Malawi as a country – “That is the image we are giving to South Africa – that we are corrupt people, because embassies are the image of Malawi – so it must stop.”
Sheriff Kaisi who is a political science lecturer at Blantyre International University expressed concern that though the incident will not affect South Africa-Malawi diplomatic relations, they put the lives of Malawians living in South Africa in a precarious condition – “We have quite a number of citizens living in South Africa… They will be seen as people who are not trustworthy, people who cannot follow rules of the game.”
Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera has since issued a statement saying that upon arrival the diplomats will face further disciplinary action. President Chakwera apologized to South Africa on behalf of Malawi and said that Malawi has already identified personnel to replace the disgraced diplomats and thorough vetting has been done to ensure that a similar debacle does not happen in future.