By Collins Mwai
South Africa’s Apartheid government sold weapons and arms to the genocidal regime in Rwanda in early 1990s, despite being informed that they were meant to carry out a genocide, former President Thabo Mbeki has said.
The genocide machinery bought weapons, including arms and machetes, from around the world in preparation for what would later came to be known as the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which claimed the lives of over a million people.
The former South African president was on Tuesday appearing on a show on eNCA, a South African television station.
Mbeki recalled that at the beginning of 1994, he received a delegation of Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi who provided intelligence that arms that were being procured from South Africa by the then Rwandan leaders were to be used in committing genocide.
Mbeki, who was then the head of the international affairs department of the African National Congress – that would later take power in Pretoria during an historic election later that year – said he referred the RPF officials to the then Foreign Affairs minister Pik Botha.
“Before the Genocide, at the beginning of the year 1994, there was a delegation that visited the ANC from the Rwanda Patriotic Front, they came to see the ANC.
“They said to us that South Africa was selling weapons to the government of Rwanda and intelligence that they had was that those weapons would be used to kill many people. Could we do something about it, they asked. I contacted the then Foreign Minister to have him hear the matter,” he said.
However, despite the RPF’s plea to halt the sale of the weapons to the fascist regime in Rwanda, the South African government went ahead with the transaction arguing that it was open to doing business with anyone.
The South African government, Mbeki disclosed on the show, said it was willing to sell weapons to whoever was ready to pay regardless of the intended use.
“The response was very unfortunate, because the government then said that the issue of sale of weapons is business… ‘we sell to whoever is ready to buy and pay us'” Mbeki quoted the then officials in charge as saying.
Mbeki, who would go on to become South Africa’s second post-Apartheid president, said that he was later shocked to learn that there were invoices for the sale of the weapons.
Mbeki also admitted that his country did not do anything to stop the genocide when broke out in Rwanda in April, 1994, saying that the focus in Pretoria at the time was the transition to a post-Apartheid era.
“We feel very unhappy with ourselves, the genocide started on 7th April and the elections here happened 20 days later, so we were very preoccupied,” he said. “We were very pre-occupied with change which became so overwhelming that for some weeks we did forget about Rwanda, unfortunately,” he said.
The damning revelations speak to the meticulous planning that preceded the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The 100-day slaughter was ultimately brought to a halt by Rwanda Patriotic Army – the armed wing of the RPF-Inkotanyi – that was then under the command of the now-President Paul Kagame.
Commenting on the relations between Rwanda and South Africa, Mbeki said there was need for the two countries to normalise relations, particularly by addressing Kigali’s concerns about Rwandan dissidents who said to be using South Africa as a base to coordinate subversive activities to destabilise Rwanda.
South Africa hosts, among others, former Rwandan army chief Kayumba Nyamwasa, the founding head of the Rwanda National Congress, an organisation led by Rwandan dissidents.
A UN report of experts published in December last year pinned Kayumba and his RNC on the creation of an irregular armed group, named P5, with a mission to attack Rwanda. The report said the armed group is based in eastern Congo and conducts recruitment from across the region, especially in Burundi and Uganda.
RNC has also been linked to a spate of fatal grenade attacks that rocked Kigali and other parts of the country nearly a decade ago.
Kayumba was tried in absentia in a military court in Kigali and sentenced to 24 years in prison and stripped of his military ranks. He was a general.
Rwanda has since issued indictments for the fugitives, both those based in South Africa and elsewhere.
Early this week Kigali announced it had arrested Callixte Nsabimana, one of the key figures behind the formation of another armed group, FLN, which claimed responsibility for raids in southwestern Rwanda that resulted in civilian deaths.
Nsabimana was a deputy to Belgium-based Paul Rusesabagina, the man whose questionable narrative of his role during the Genocide against the Tutsi inspired the Hollywood movie, Hotel Rwanda.
The insurgents were immediately repulsed and Kigali has since called on countries to help arrest the leaders of FLN and other armed groups like Kayumba’s RNC to bring them to justice.