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The past week has been full of drama as many African country’s diplomats were caught on the wrong side of the law in South Africa. Diplomats from countries like Lesotho, Malawi, Ghana, Burundi, Guinea, and Rwanda are allegedly being implicated in tax-dodging scams.

According to multiple sources in government, the diplomats are being accused of smuggling alcohol bought at duty free shops and selling it on the black market, a development that is unbecoming of government representatives.

Before the release of the official letter by the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Malawi condemning such behaviour, Information had started circulating on social media claiming that all diplomats at the Malawian Embassy in Pretoria, have been expelled from South Africa and declared them persona non grata.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malawi has since issued an official letter distancing itself from the behaviour of these officials and warned that there will be consequences upon their return to Lilongwe. Malawi seems to the most affected country in this debacle with the highest number of diplomats declared persona non grata.

Lesotho is also one of the countries that has been seriously affected and the Lesotho Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since released a statement distancing itself from these embarrassing accusations. Most of Lesotho’s diplomats were told to leave the country within 72 hrs.

As for the other countries mentioned above, we haven’t heard anything much officially coming from their governments as well as their host government.

In April, media reports surfaced that the South African Revenue Authority (SARS) had uncovered a scam that foreign diplomats were buying large volumes of alcohol at duty free retailers and selling it locally.

This kind of behaviour by the diplomats will definitely put a dent on Pan African unity and integration as it will lower the trust between African countries a development that does not augur well at a time when we need to integrate our economies through “The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)” which was founded in 2018 signed and sealed in Kigali, Rwanda, with trade commencing as of 1 January 2021.

For us in Africa, this just shows us that the calibre of our diplomats who are being sent out to represent us are not appointed on merit. Many of them are there because of nepotism or perhaps just because they are faithful party cadres. These people are also not trained in diplomatic etiquette, if they are, then the training is inadequate.

The behaviour of these diplomats is just pathetic to say the least. What makes it even worse, is the issue that, they are supposed to be leaders who should be leading by example, especially given the current Covid-19 pandemic. But instead, they are caught on the wrong side of the law promoting alcoholism to the young people.

We commend the action taken by the government of South Africa to expose their shenanigans and chase them from the country altogether. These are not real diplomats, they are “black market” dealers, and they should now return to their real profession.

With such kinds of diplomats, Africa should forget about real and serious development and the so much sort after integration. There can never be integration if government representatives portray such behaviour. When diplomats behave this way, it destroys trust between nations which otherwise should be in good relations at all times.

One of the core functions of diplomacy, is to built understanding between nations in order to facilitate good neighbourliness and then issues like trade and others will follow. Diplomats should not lead the way by breaking the rules and disrespecting the host in such a manner.

We hope others will learn from this and put a stop to this very embarrassing development in the history of diplomacy in South Africa. Going forward, we expect African countries to send reputable representatives to represent them. Please send people of calibre not “black marketeers”.


Dr. Mustafa Mheta

Senior researcher/Head of Africa Desk

Media Review Network

South Africa