Picture: 123RF/Sezer özger
Picture: 123RF/Sezer özger

What is going on in the department of international relations & co-operation (Dirco)? The department — infamous for former minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane who, in an Al Jazeera interview, spoke of having a hole in her head as a result of her carrying buckets of water — has again been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The latest is a Sunday Times report on SA’s top diplomat in Los Angeles, who apparently rejected more than 30 properties because she rather has her sights on a property in Beverly Hills’ glitzy Rodeo Drive. The newspaper reports that LA consul general Thandile Sunduza has been accused of being "uncouth" and irking potential landlords with outlandish demands such as importing furniture from the East and changing kitchen cupboards and wall units.

Why does SA have four missions in the US anyway? Minister Naledi Pandor last year vowed to cut spending on SA’s foreign missions, due to the precarious state of the country’s finances.

But Sunduza’s excesses are left in the shade by even more startling allegations against the deputy ambassador to Sudan, Zabantu Ngcobo, who is under investigation by the SA police.

This, says the Daily Maverick, is over her partner allegedly approaching an embassy driver to kill an intelligence officer who sent damaging information about Ngcobo to her bosses.

As if this wasn’t enough, news reports then emerged suggesting that Dirco paid R118m for vacant land in New York that doesn’t exist.

There are also revelations to the Zondo commission from senior bureaucrats that the ANC demanded kickbacks from officials representing SA internationally.

It’s all rather alarming, especially as it comes from a department headed by Pandor, who was among President Cyril Ramaphsa’s better choices in his 2019 cabinet selection. She was seen as a minister who would put the country first. But she is proving to be a disappointment. The cherry on top of Dirco’s failures is the SA government’s continued soft diplomacy on Zimbabwe.

The disastrous Dirco stood up for the Mugabe-lite Emmerson Mnangagwa, calling for sanctions on Zimbabwe to be removed — amid rampant human rights abuses in that country.

Dirco said Southern African Development Community heads of state had met in Tanzania "collectively voice their disapproval and condemnation of sanctions against the Republic of Zimbabwe through various activities and platforms until sanctions are lifted".

It’s a craven statement by Dirco, sucking up to a dictator and protecting elites.

These sanctions, as Pandor surely knows, apply only to individual members of the Zimbabwe government, not to the country as a whole.

Yet the Zimbabwean government persists in its flawed assertion that sanctions are responsible for the economic crisis, instead of, well, awful economic policies and the wanton abuse of power.

And, just last week, Mnangagwa introduced the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill in a bid to crack down on nongovernmental organisations that criticise his government. It’s an indication of just how little regard he has for the sort of rights that you’d think Pandor believed in protecting.

If anything, SA’s government should be pushing for greater sanctions on Zimbabwe — not fewer.

The Zimbabwean government persists in lying to the world, by claiming that sanctions are responsible for the economic crisis, rather than its own awful economic policies and the wanton abuse of power.

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