Making Friends With Taiwan: Is ANC’s Treason Accusation Payback For Tshwane Election Loss?

Written by Dana Sanchez

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress said Wednesday that a recent trip to Taiwan by Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga amounts to treason, Independent Online reported.

Msimanga says he went to Taiwan to explore possibilities for trade relations between the two cities.

The ANC says the trip is a conspiracy against the BRICS trade bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), violates the One China policy which South Africa agreed to respect, and shows Msimanga’s inexperience, the ANC said.

“The trip did not only expose the conspiracy against BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) but also exposed the limited understanding of Mr Msimanga on his roles and powers as well as his understanding on the functioning of the three layers of the state which are inter-related and inter-dependent,” the ANC Tshwane caucus said in a statement.

Msimanga, 36, was elected mayor of Pretoria by the Tshwane City Council after the Democratic Alliance’s victory in Tshwane in the Aug. 3, 2016 election.

Municipal elections are held every five years in South Africa. The August 2016 elections were the fifth since the end of apartheid in 1994. They gave South Africans an opportunity to elect councils for all district, metropolitan and local municipalities in each of the nine provinces.

The ruling ANC kept its top position as the largest party overall with 53.9 percent of the total votes, followed by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) with 26.9 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with 8.2 percent. Popular support for the ANC, especially in the large cities, fell to its lowest since 1994. The ANC lost control of three metropolitan areas — Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg – to opposition parties. The DA had its best local electoral performance so far.

Most of Msimanga’s time during his first 100 days has been spent fighting corruption and undoing what he described as financial disaster left by the ANC government, Mail & Guardian reported.

“We’re sitting with a 2-billion- rand deficit here,” Msimanga said, according to a Dec, 15 report. “Ours now is to make sure that we turn the ship around, to ensure that we are able to get on a healthy financial lifeline.”

Msimanga’s office has begun investigating suspicious contracts and looking into dodgy deals, according to Mail & Guardian.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations was aware of Msimanga’s visit to Taiwan, and advised him not to visit the country, according to department spokesman Clayson Monyela, Independent Online reported.

Monyela said the trip was not sanctioned by government.

China and Taiwan split after a civil war in the 1940s. However, the two countries enjoy economic ties. South Africa’s ties with Taiwan ended during President Nelson Mandela’s administration in 1998 when he officially recognized China over Taiwan.

“SA government respects the One China policy,” said Monyela.

What is the One China policy?

In 1949, after losing a long civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist party, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist party retreated to the island of Taiwan, about 180km off the mainland’s Southeast coast. Ever since, the People’s Republic of China has insisted that Taiwan is just a province of China. Any country wishing to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing must acknowledge there is only “One China” and sever all formal ties with Taiwan, according to the Financial Times:

Officially, the “Republic of China” government in Taiwan still claims sovereignty over the mainland (and even Mongolia). But Beijing and Taipei have long adhered to the “1992 consensus” in which both sides agreed there was only China, while disagreeing on which republic was its rightful representative.

For the past 20 years, however, Taiwan has promoted itself as a free, democratic and in effect independent country.

Msimanga said he was invited by the Ko Wen-je, mayor of Taipei.  Some ANC members say this violates the “One China” policy which dictates that countries seeking diplomatic relations with mainland China can’t have ties to Taiwan, Eyewitness News reported.

The mayor considered South Africa-China ties but said the need to create business opportunities should transcend party politics, said Samkelo Mgobozi with the City of Tshwane.

“We believe it is in the best interest for us to assess any and all investment potential,” Mgobozi said.

The mayor paid for the trip personally and took personal leave to go, Mgobozi said.

“This visit was at no cost to the city of Tshwane and it was by invitation of the mayor of Taipei, so suggestions to the contrary that this trip would be a cost to the city are just not true,” Mgobozi said.