Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko told The Citizen that she was “quite sure” there was “absolutely no truth” to “rumours” that Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda have pulled out of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) African leg, which will take place in Cape Town from Wednesday to Friday this week.
“Heads of state are not in the business of boycotting events. Where they have concerns they communicate them through diplomatic channels or directly with relevant head of state.
“In this case, I am aware that a number of these heads of states said to be ‘boycotting’ had either indicated a while back they were not attending or alternatively had not confirmed attendance,” she added.
According to department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele, no correspondence from any of the three nations indicated that they were boycotting WEF.
“Early last week we heard about the Rwandan president,” he said. “We received official correspondence which had no mention of the current situation in SA, so it’s impossible to say if there’s a connection”.
“With DRC there was never a confirmation of attendance in the first place,” he continued.
“With Malawi, we have not received correspondence indicating they are boycotting or withdrawing.
“Dirco would like to express our satisfaction and happiness with the number of heads of state who have arrived so far, and we are expecting them to continue arriving in huge numbers today.
“Our focus is now to host a successful WEF, which by tomorrow will be in full swing,” he added.
The Citizen reported earlier on Wednesday that reports on the African News Agency indicated that the presidents of the three countries would not be attending.
This follows the ongoing xenophobic violence in South Africa, which has seen the destruction of small businesses believed to be owned by foreign nationals in areas in and around Johannesburg.
In addition to the presidents of the three countries cancelling their attendance at the WEF, AFP reports that Zambia has pulled out of a friendly football match against South Africa scheduled for March 2020, and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari wants to summon the SA high commissioner to the country to discuss the attacks.
The attacks were condemned by African Union Commission (AUC) chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat in a statement from his spokesperson, which called for “immediate steps to protect the lives of people and their property, ensure that all perpetrators are brought to account for their acts, and that justice be done to those who suffered economic and other losses”.
“The chairperson reiterates the African Union’s Commission continued commitment to support the South African government in addressing the root causes that led to these despicable acts, in order to promote peace and stability, within the framework of the African Union’s longstanding principles of continental solidarity”.
Areas affected by a fresh outburst of attacks on mainly foreign-owned shops include Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg central, areas of the south of Joburg including Rosetenville and Turffontein, and Alexandra township, where such attacks first began back in 2008.
A spree of looting has been justified by its perpetrators as a response to alleged criminal activity on the part of undocumented foreigners.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Tuesday said he would bring in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) if the violence continued.
“We can’t criminalise all foreign nationals and everybody must live by the rules of the country, whether local or foreigner nationals,” he said.
Five people have been killed so far, with President Cyril Ramaphosa vowing to react swiftly and decisively to stop the attacks.
UPDATE: This story was updated with presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko’s comment, 11.17am, Wednesday, September 4.
UPDATE: This story was updated with comment from Dirco, 11.33am, Wednesday, September 4.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman. Additional reporting, News24 Wire and AFP)