China accused 10 South Africans of terrorism while hosting a South African state visit

“So, when are you planning to release them exactly?”
“So, when are you planning to release them exactly?”
Image: Reuters/Reuters photographer
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When South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa meets Chinese president Xi Jing Ping later this week in Beijing, their handshake might be a bit awkward.

Africa’s largest disaster relief agency—Gift of the Givers—said July 15 that 10 South Africans were detained on Friday, July 10 at the Erdos Airport, Inner Mongolia, on accusations of being linked to a terrorist group.

The 10 South Africans were part of a larger group—including nine Britons and one Indian national—who were visiting the country for 47 days. Six of the Brits have been expelled from country, diplomats in Beijing told The Guardian July 15. Imtiaaz Solomon, from Gift of the Givers, told iOL that some of the detainees were being held on accusations of terrorism, because they were watching propaganda videos in their hotel rooms. Solomon said they were probably watching videos of Islamic prayers, as is common during Ramadan.

News of the group’s detention only became public on Sunday when the tour operator went to the Erdos Airport to inquire about the whereabouts of the tour group.

This morning, Eyewitness News (EWN) reported that five out of the ten detained South Africans have been allowed to leave, and are expected to arrive back in South Africa on Friday, it was unclear when the remaining five detainees would be released.

Several prominent South Africans are among the detained including:

  • Hoosain Ismail Jacobs, a former Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) soldier, the ex-military wing of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC)
  • Salim Aziz Joosub, CEO of Capital and Financial Brokers, whose brother Shameel Joosub, is CEO of South Africa’s largest mobile operator, Vodacom.

Meanwhile, the South African government said that it was in touch with the families of some of the 10 detainees, and had asked its embassy in China to handle the matter.

The detention of these 10 individuals without charges came as a surprise, as South Africa and China have strong diplomatic relations, prompting South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to undertake a official state visit to China this week. Ramaphosa, who is currently in China till Friday and is set to meet Chinese president, Xi Jingping, for a courtesy visit, is leading a delegation of senior government, business and state-owned enterprises leaders.

China is South Africa’s largest trading partner, with trade between both countries last year amounted to $61.6 billion, surpassing trade with the once dominant European Union (EU), which stood at $55.2 billion in 2014. South Africa and China also sit on BRICS—the five-country group of the world’s emerging economies that met last week in Russia to launch a new development finance institution.

South Africa’s deputy president and his delegation are expected to fly back to South Africa on the 17th. When they do, it would be good if the South Africans detainees came back with them.