South Africa expels Malawi diplomats over sale of duty-free alcohol

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a joint press conference with French President as part of a welcoming ceremony at the government's Union Buildings, in Pretoria, on May 28, 2021. 

Photo credit: Ludovic Marin | AFP

Malawian diplomats in South Africa have been expelled from Pretoria after being found guilty of selling duty-free alcohol.

This comes after 12 diplomats at the Lesotho mission in Pretoria were ejected for a similar offence according to the Malawi Nation.

It is alleged that embassy staff at the Malawi High Commission had been importing alcohol, which they sold to bars and restaurants without paying duty.  The diplomats were given 72 hours to leave the country.

“All diplomats at the Malawi mission in Pretoria have been expelled from South Africa after being   declared persona non-grata,” reported the Malawi Nation.

In a statement issued on Friday, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said the diplomats had been “declared persona non-grata for flouting their diplomatic privileges.”

“The diplomats were found guilty of engaging in illicit trade in duty-free alcohol. This decision was taken in line with the Vienna Convention of 1961. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 is fundamental to the conduct of foreign relations and ensures that diplomats conduct their duties without threat or influence by the host government.

“However, where such privileges are abused, the host country is obliged to take the necessary action in line with the convention.”

“The affected diplomats are expected to relinquish their diplomatic status by returning all the necessary diplomatic tools to South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation,” the statement said.

More heads are expected to roll at other embassies who are believed to have been engaging in similar activities.

“Investigations of similar transgressions by other missions accredited to South Africa are at an advanced stage and similar action will be taken should they be found guilty,” DIRCO said.

Diplomatic tensions between South Africa and Malawi have been high since November 2020.

South Africa suspected Lilongwe’s involvement in smuggling popular cleric Shepherd Bushiri out of the country.

Prophet Bushiri was arrested on charges of money laundering and theft involving millions of dollars and was due to stand trial before he skipped the country in violation of his bail conditions.