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'South Africa broke its own laws'

Michael ScaturroJune 25, 2015

South Africa says it will review its membership of the ICC. This follows a dispute between the government and the High Court over Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The opposition says the government acted wrongly.

Mandela Trauerfeier Johannesburg 10.12.2013
Image: Reuters

As the discussion on South Africa's failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir while attending an African Union summit in the country rumbles on, the government now says it is determined to review its membership of the International Criminal court (ICC). But it's not just ICC membership that is causing friction. The government's handling of the al-Bashir affair, how and why it ignored a South African court order stopping the Sudanese leader from leaving the country, is also still putting a burden on the government. DW spoke to the leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance, Mmusi Maimane, while he was in Berlin.

DW: Many observers say South Africa has lost track, for example with the recent xenophobic attacks. What solutions does the DA offer to such problems?

Mmusi Maimane: Absolutely, the problem of immigration, migration, economic refugees, is a global phenomenon. It is true everywhere in the world. People move, they move for different reasons. We have South Africans living elsewhere. The trick behind this issue is to make sure that our economy is growing, because in a world of diminishing opportunities you create the threat among citizens that other people who don't come from that same country are competing for resources, that's the first. The second is that we have to be effective at border control. We have got more VIP protection for ministers and the president than we do for border control. Thirdly, I think we need to have a better discourse about what it means to be African. Funnily enough, Europeans in South Africa don't face the same issue. So it is an issue about how do we relate with Africa and Africans and we need to lead a discourse, a dialogue about what that means, how do we engage in communities to build a better Africa. Then lastly we have to have better regulations in communities so that anyone who is there, is there legally, there is an obedience to rule of law and there is a capacity built in our police to police the issue. Because often the capacity in our police is a bit weak, that's why we have to depend on the military etc.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance
Maimane says South African must restore what Nelson Mandela put forwardImage: imago stock&people

South Africa’s ruling ANC still enjoys widespread support at the grassroots level- as leader of the opposition how do you intend to win over some of that support?

There is a history, remember the liberation movement has a very profound emotional bond. Icons such as Nelson Mandela, these are very, very important issues. But at the same time I think the ANC's grip on power is weakening, they are showing a decline in key metros, in local government elections. So our issue is about building a reconciled inclusive non racial party so that it is attractive to more and more people and I think that is very possible. I am anticipating that in the next number of years there will be significant instability in the ANC and we have got to remain stable right through the process. And I am quite comfortable that when we can govern and show that we govern well, that we can cut through, because all the South Africans want to advance freedom, all of them want opportunities and all of them want a fair society. So we have got to communicate those and put them to people and I am quite comfortable that it is possible.

President Jacob Zuma's government is facing growing criticism for inviting and allowing wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to come to attend the AU summit in South Africa – what's your position on this matter?

South Africa broke its own laws. We can debate the role of the ICC at another stage, that the ICC prosecutes only Africans, we can debate that. But the truth of the matter is that South Africa was a signatory to the Rome Statute, it domesticated the legislation into our own parliament. In 2010 when President Zuma was asked if Omar al-Bashir came to South Africa, would he arrest him, his response in parliament was that he would comply with the rules and comply with the law. The change is something that we can't understand. Secondly, that South Africa ignored its own laws is wrong, and then thirdly, I think Omar al-Bashir committed crimes against Africans. Hundred of thousands of people died, how can such a man be allowed a free rein? South Africa must restore what Nelson Mandela put forward, which is that our foreign policy must be based on human rights and what Omar al-Bashir did was a violation of human rights. How can we allow such a man to roam freely into South Africa, whilst we refuse to give Dalai Lama a visa? We should have been fast to arrest Omar- al-Bashir.

South Africa's police chief recently said President Zuma does not have to pay back some of the public money spent for refurbishing his private Nkandla residence – is this the end of the issue?

It is far from. Because what the issue has done is to introduce for South Africa a constitutional crisis, where the powers of the Public Protector are beeing subjected to the same amount of strength as the powers of the executive head. Now our constitution is written and it gives the Public Protector certain rights that are different to an ombudsman in the relationship all over the world. So, I think what has to happen now is that we need to fight the constitutional battle of strengthening the role of the Public Protector, ensuring that the president complies with that. If we fail to do that, then we must scrap the role of the Public Protector. So it is critical as it relates to the constitutional arrangements of South Africa.

Mmusi Maimane is the leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance

Interview: Michael Scaturro