Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has lamented the kidnapping of four South African peacekeepers in the volatile Sudan, saying the country’s instability is of great concern.
Motlanthe, on a visit to Tunisia this week, also said last week’s elections in Sudan had taken place at an “inopportune” time – conditions on the ground were not ideal.
The four South African soldiers, two men and two women, were captured last Sunday on their way to their headquarters in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. South Africa has 165 police officers and about 800 soldiers in Sudan as part of the UN/African Union mission.
Motlanthe said the soldiers’ safe return was paramount. “The kidnapping of the soldiers is regrettable and we hope that no harm will happen to them,” said Motlanthe.
The first election in Sudan in 23 years was marred by the withdrawal of the opposition, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and other smaller parties, which claimed violations by the ruling National Congress Party. Motlanthe said that an unstable Sudan – the continent’s biggest country – had implications for many other African countries.
“It is a great concern. Sudan shares borders with 10 other African states, therefore… if it implodes… it destabilises many other African countries. So it is in our interests to contribute towards peace and stability in Sudan.
“A number of… parties pulled out of the election. That in itself already creates circumstances for the election outcomes not to be accepted by all because they have these concerns about aspects of the preparations. The conditions are not ideal,” he said.
“These elections could not have happened at a more inopportune time.” Motlanthe added that former president Thabo Mbeki was still involved in the Sudan peace process and had been monitoring the elections.
“One would have asked for more time for the peace process to take root, as well as the outstanding question relating to the comprehensive peace agreement with the South to be addressed. Then the country as a whole could have gone to a better election,” he said.
That voters – with those in the South making their crosses for the first time – had to cope with up to 12 ballot papers could have been cumbersome for some, especially without much voter education, said Motlanthe. Improved relations with stable northern African countries such as Tunisia could help in trying to bring peace to the continent and the Middle East, he said.
“It is very important that those countries that are unstable are ring-fenced and attended to in a more concerted fashion, unlike a situation where countries sit in their own silos. “I think there is a far… better appreciation now of the advantages of working together and towards better co-ordination among the regional economic communities. That is why Tunisia is very keen to attain agreements within SADC (the Southern African Development Community) and Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States),” he said.
Motlanthe said Tunisia could be a “gateway” to Europe for South African companies.
“Tunisia is a very important country in the continent… They are trading from the southern side of the Mediterranean into Europe. For instance, if a South African company has difficulties in penetrating the European market it can come through by a joint venture with a Tunisian company. They are already accepted by the EU.”
Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi called for more trade between the two countries. Motlanthe agreed. “(If we) increase the volume of trade between the two countries, we can actually lead the continent in settling our balance of trade in our own currencies… we don’t have to use hard currency.
That’s one area where I think we can be a good example because of stability of both countries, they wouldn’t have a problem accepting our currency and we wouldn’t have a problem accepting theirs.” South Africa has about 20 agreements with Tunisia, mostly covering health, arts and culture, and science and technology.
Motlanthe also called for more Tunisian doctors to be deployed in South Africa’s rural hospitals, where there is a dire shortage of health professionals. There are about 80 of them working in South Africa already.
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