Diplomatic relations between South Africa and Qatar are strained following a decision by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to meet former president Jacob Zuma last month, despite South Africa’s wishes that the meeting not go ahead.
Sources have confirmed that the department of international relations and co-operation is unhappy about the meeting, which is said to have happened at the recommendation of Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela.
Mandela, who was in Doha for a cultural event hosted by the South African embassy, had an audience with the emir shortly before the Zuma meeting. During the conversation, Mandela is said to have motivated for the meeting with Zuma to go ahead, an allegation he denies.
“I went solemnly for the development of [Nelson Mandela’s birthplace] Mvezo and the Africa summit we are holding in November,” Mandela said.
“I went there as the head of the Royal House of Mandela and … to introduce our royal family to him.
He also had an interest in meeting me. He then asked me to meet with his sister, who heads the Qatar Foundation.”
Mandela said he was also requested to celebrate South Africa’s Heritage Day at the South African embassy in Qatar.
“I did not meet president Zuma in Qatar. I didn’t see him, and I didn’t even know he was there up until I was back in South Africa and learnt that he had gone.”
At the heart of Zuma’s trip to Qatar now lie questions about the future of Denel.
A senior government source said South Africa’s intelligence community was “uncomfortable” with the role played by Mandela.
“The Qatar government is spinning this as a private visit and that effectively puts a stop to any further inquiries — formally. The spooks will now have to engage more on the real reasons or purpose of the visit. What is important to ascertain is whether any protocols were breached by JZ [Jacob Zuma],” the source added.
Zuma was granted an audience with the emir despite the international relations department’s objections. Last year Zuma hosted Qatar Defence Minister Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Attiyah and it was reported the two had discussed a proposal for Qatar to buy a stake in Denel.