MASERU – The Republic of South Africa yesterday declared 12 Lesotho envoys personae non grata for abusing their diplomatic privileges by engaging in illicit sales of duty-free alcohol.
Giving them a 72-hour ultimatum to leave the country, South Africa expelled them along with their dependents.
Public Eye established yesterday confirmed the diplomats were expelled from South Africa for violating laws “specifically, the illicit trade in duty-free alcohol.”
They were regularly bringing alcohol into the host country without paying duty before re-selling it in local bars and restaurants.
The government of Lesotho yesterday described this development as shameful and unequivocally distanced itself from those diplomats.
“This is shameful,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations Principal Secretary (PS), retired Colonel Tanki Mothae, said yesterday.
“They abused their privileges because they knew they could not be arrested. That is why South Africa has decided to declare them Persona Non Grata,” Mothae added.
A peeved government of Lesotho last night issued a statement promising to deal with the ignominious diplomats as soon as they get home.
A leaked verbal note from the South African government addressed to the High Commission of Lesotho in Pretoria from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said it had “the honour to notify the Mission that a number of diplomats and their dependents have abused their diplomatic privileges”.
“The Department hereby informs the High Commission that due to the abuse of their diplomatic privileges the following diplomats and their dependents are declared Persona Non Grata in the Republic of South Africa:
The 12 diplomats are:
- Mrs Malika Sylviah Molapo-Mphofe Counsellor
- Ms Keketso Halio Makhupane First Secretary
- Mr Jane Lekunya Third Secretary
- Mrs ’Malebohang Jane Attaché (Administration)
- Mr Cephas Kolouoane Jane Spouse of Mrs Jane
- Mr Ketso Pitrose Kalake Attaché (driver)
- Mrs ’Mathato Joyce Kalake Spouse of Mr KP Kalake
- Ms Limakatso Mafelesi Spouse of Mr LJ Ralebesi, Consular Attache (Admin) (Durban)
- Mr Teboho Charles Letsela Consular Attaché (Johannesburg)
- Mr Molefi John Matsoso Assistant Attaché (Johannesburg)
- Mrs ’Makhotso Angelinah Matsoso Spouse of Mr MJ Matsoso
- Mrs Makagiso Anicia Mabeleng Spouse of Mr K Mabeleng Consular Attache (Johannesburg)
“The above mentioned diplomats and their dependents are instructed to depart from the national territory of the Republic of South Africa within 72 hours,” the department of international relations said.
It instructed the Lesotho mission to ensure that the diplomatic identity cards of the envoys, their dependents and attendant privileges be returned to the department within three working days for cancellation.
“Their passports should be submitted to the department with immediate effect in order for the temporary residence visas to be cancelled and to issue them with exit visas. Diplomatic vehicles should also be deregistered,” it said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Relations expressed how it had learnt “with disappointment and embarrassment that several Basotho diplomats serving in South Africa, at Lesotho High Commission in Pretoria and Lesotho Consulate in Johannesburg, had been declared Persona Non Grata by the government of the republic of South Africa.
“The diplomats and their families have been given 72 hours to depart South Africa and relinquish their diplomatic status,” the ministry said.
South Africa took the unprecedented action under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 since the said diplomats failed to comply with the laws of South Africa, specifically the illicit trade in duty-free alcohol.
“The Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho distances itself and condemns the actions of the said diplomats in the strongest terms. Measures are underway to ensure their return within the stipulated 72 hours,” it said.
In January last year the South African media reported that it had uncovered a duty-free alcohol ring run by cash-strapped Lesotho diplomats in South Africa who said they were making up for what their government was failing to provide.
Procured duty-free, the liquor was then sold both in South Africa and Lesotho.
Majoro Mohapi, Lesotho’s Consul General in Johannesburg, confirmed this practice at the time, and was quoted as having said: “I would say 90 percent of my staff are doing that and they are making profits out it. To me it’s an illegal business because they are defrauding the South African revenue authority of tax.”
Mohapi added that Lesotho’s diplomatic presence in South Africa was not serving a productive purpose, owing largely to the shortage of resources. He called his assignment a degraded mission defeating the purpose of their being there.
Following these developments, the South African Revenue Service cracked down on diplomats for allegedly selling illicit alcohol, cheating the country’s taxman out of an estimated M100 million per month.
Other diplomatic missions singled out for these criminal activities were those from Rwanda, Ghana, Guinea, Malawi and Burundi.
Once they come back home, it will be very difficult for the diplomats to travel abroad given Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa which has declared them persona non grata.