Malawi Reacts Over Expulsion of Its Diplomats From South Africa

Malawi’s government said Saturday that it had received news of its diplomats’ alleged misconduct in South Africa with regret and that it would punish those involved when they returned home.

South Africa on Friday declared all Malawian diplomats persona non grata for abusing diplomatic privileges and gave them 72 hours to leave the country. 

The action was taken after an inquiry discovered that the diplomats were buying duty-free alcohol with cash and then reselling it to shopkeepers, according to a statement from South Africa’s Ministry of International Relations.

Gospel Kazako, a Malawi government spokesperson, told local media on Saturday that the administration has already spoken with several of its diplomats stationed in South Africa.

“What they are saying is that they are being accused of abusing the tax privileges that they had,” Kazako said. “You know, according to the Vienna Convention of 1961, diplomats have certain privileges, and one of the privileges is that of not paying tax in the hosting country on certain items and certain services. Alcohol is one of those items, so there was abuse, according to South African government.”

According to the South African Revenue Service, the scandal, which also involved diplomats from Rwanda, Burundi, and Lesotho, resulted in an estimated monthly loss of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. The length of time the unlawful business was in operation has yet to be determined.

The incident was peculiar and shocking, according to John Chikago, Malawi’s former high commissioner to South Africa.

“We buy with the diplomatic card, and you can’t just buy any amount, unless you have a party at your house or there is national day [celebration] for your country,” he said. “But if it is normal consumption, you should buy only one bottle or two bottles. But they were buying cartons. How? So, it appears there was a syndicate.”

The issue, according to Chikago, could tarnish Malawian diplomats’ reputations in other embassies.

“That is the image we are giving to South Africa — that we are corrupt people, because embassies are the image of Malawi — so it must stop,” he said.

Sheriff Kaisi, a political science lecturer at Blantyre International University, downplayed concerns that the incident would harm Malawi-South Africa relations. However, he believes that the image of ordinary Malawians living in South Africa may be affected.

“We have quite a number of citizens living in South Africa,” he said. “They will be seen as people who are not trustworthy, people who cannot follow rules of the game.”

Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, stated in a statement Friday evening that it had expressed concern to the South African government over the diplomats’ behavior and that it would take appropriate action once they returned to Malawi.

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