02/01/2017 11:10 SAST | Updated 02/01/2017 12:01 SAST

Government Must Strip Errant Officials Of Passports, ANC Seethes

The governing party is livid with Tshwane mayor (and DA councillor) Solly Msimanga's recent junket to Taiwan.

Jason Lee / Reuters
China's President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 1, 2016.

The African National Congress (ANC) has reacted with a mini-thesis on why Tshwane mayor Solly Msimang's trip to Taiwan was so, so wrong.

Zizi Kodwa, ANC national spokesperson, says the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) must strip government officials of their official or diplomatic passports where they are "found to be wilfully undermining our foreign policy".

Msimanga travelled to Taiwan in December at the invitation of the mayor of Taipei. He has since come under fire from Dirco and the ANC because South Africa doesn't recognise Taiwan and Msimanga's trip could be interpreted as contrary to foreign policy. He has since rejected criticism, saying the trip was on his own time (he took leave) and that the Taipei mayor paid for the visit.

Kodwa however doesn't buy it, and in a long statement accused Msimanga and the Democratic Alliance (DA) of "running a parallel government": "The ANC's primary concern is that the DA is clearly intent on running a parallel government with its own foreign policy to the detriment of existing government policy, the country's international image and her national security."

The ANC has asked Dirco to issue a reprimand or note of objection (called a "demarche" in diplomatic terms) to Taiwanese representatives in Pretoria because the invitation to Msimanga amounted to "extreme disrespect" for South Africa's foreign policy. It also wants Dirco to emphasise to all government departments and entities the tenets of South Africa's foreign policy as well as "the centrality of the presidency and Dirco".

Kodwa says although government entities have the freedom to enter into foreign relations with whomever it pleases, it must happen within the bounds of government policy. Msimanga's visit was palpably not in accordance with South Africa's "one China" policy.

"Councillor Msimanga, as mayor of Tshwane, is a senior government official and therefore bound by existing government policy. The city government of Tshwane is not an autonomous state which acts on a frolic of its own (sic) outside of government policy," Kodwa seethes in the three-page missive.

"By travelling to Taiwan against the considered advice of Dirco, the executing arm of South Africa's foreign policy, Msimanga has transgressed (i) government policy with respect to our existing diplomatic relations with China, (ii) the spirit of cooperative governance as enshrined in the constitution and (iii) brought our foreign policy into disrepute.

"He has started a precedence which, if allowed, can only render the entire system of government impotent."

Msimanga earlier reacted by saying it wasn't an official visit and that any and all avenues to encourage investment in the capital city needs to be investigated.

John Stremlau, a professor of international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, told EWN earlier "the ANC is overreacting".

"I do want to draw attention to the ANC's overreaction, at least the Tshwane caucus. I think there's something more serious going on here and that's investments that may be possible and flowing from relationships with Taiwan at the economic level."

South Africa maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan until 1997, when then-President Nelson Mandela "derecognised" Taipei in favour of Beijing and the "one China" policy. China is South Africa's single-largest trading partner, although the European Union (EU) remains the country's largest.