International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has committed another international faux pas at the ongoing African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
This time she jumped the gun on the election of a new director general for the World Health Organisation, publicly congratulating former Ethiopian foreign minister Tedros Adhanom on his “election” to this position.
Adhanom is one of the three candidates and the elections are only set to take place in May.
She even volunteered a congratulations during an interview with international journalists, with the clip being broadcast on Nigerian television station TVC News.
“There is a question that you haven’t asked and that I will volunteer to answer you,” she told TVC News reporter Vauldi Carelse over the weekend.
“As I walked into the room I met with the former foreign minister of Ethiopia, who has just been elected the director general of the World Health Organisation, so I took advantage of hugging the man who is going high up. Maybe next time we will have to make an appointment, but we are elated. I know that I’m jumping the gun here,” she said, adding that this should be announced soon.
Her department even later tweeted pictures of her congratulating the former minister, but incorrectly named him as Dr Workneh Gebeyehu, who is the current east African country’s foreign minister after he took over from Adhanom.
Nkoana-Mashabane also hinted she had “no personal preference” when it came to the election of the new AU Commission chairperson at the AU summit here on Monday, even though South Africa should in public support the candidacy of Botswana’s foreign minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, as she is the Southern African Development Community’s official candidate.
“All I can say now that you’re here is may the best candidate win,” she told the journalists, adding that she would like to see a woman in that position.
Unofficially, however, South Africa is said to support Kenyan foreign minister Amina Mohamed. South Africa and Kenya are closer to each other because of their stance that African countries should withdraw en masse from the International Criminal Court.
Nkoana-Mashabane also berated the South African journalist for implying that South Africa might oppose Morocco’s bid to join the AU, saying she was the only one who could speak on behalf of President Jacob Zuma until he arrived.
She failed to clarify South Africa’s actual position, only saying the country would be bound by the AU’s “holy book”, its constitutive act, and that South Africa had historic relations with both Morocco and Western Sahara.
Morocco withdrew from the AU in 1984 when the continental body recognised the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic as a country, while Morocco considers it part of itself.
South Africa’s stance is believed to be that it would not oppose Morocco joining but it would expect Morocco to recognise the independence of Western Sahara, which is considered to be one of the last colonies on the African continent.
Last year Nkoana-Mashabane caused embarassment last year when she told Al Jazeera that she suffered under apartheid and had a “hole in the head” from carrying buckets of water when she was young.
During the interview she also failed to answer questions directly.