Speaking at a briefing held at the OR Tambo building in Pretoria on Tuesday, Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim, said the government was assessing the situation in the region.
“We are monitoring this situation very carefully. If there’s a need for South Africans to leave, we will give them all consular assistance to leave the country,” he said.
South Africans residing in South Korea have been asked to monitor the department of international relations's website for further updates.
“If the situation arises where we feel that there is a need for South African citizens to leave South Korea, we will inform them but at the moment I don’t think any country has asked their citizens to leave,” he said.
This comes after Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) issued a warning to foreign residents and institutions in neighbouring South Korea to evacuate the country.
According to reports, the DPKR’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee warned of a “merciless” and “all-out” thermo-nuclear war.
The warning, which has largely been dismissed as rhetoric, is the latest in a series of threats made by the DPRK after the United States issued sanctions against it in response to its latest nuclear arms test.
The country had earlier issued a similar warning to diplomats based in the capital Pyongyang; the warning was largely ignored.
Meanwhile, Japan has deployed Patriot missiles in Tokyo to defend against possible air attacks from North Korea.
Nevertheless, Ebrahim said the South African government was “deeply concerned” by the heightened tensions in the Korean Peninsula and called on all sides not to aggravate the already tense situation.
“With reference to our own negotiated settlement in South Africa, we believe that peaceful reconciliation of conflict situations is best addressed through inclusive political dialogue. We believe that in the long-term, a political solution carries greater weight than a military solution – one may win the war, but lose the peace,” he said.
Ebrahim said that, while government recognises the rights of all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to legitimately develop nuclear energy for peaceful civilian purposes, it would continue to call on the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear weapons, return to the NPT and to open its facilities to the International Atomic Energy.
Game of chicken
Tom Wheeler, research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said part of the reason for the increased rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang was North Korea’s dissatisfaction with a recent UN resolution condemning its missile tests.
In addition, he said, the DPKR’s leader Kim Jong-Un is still trying to prove his mettle to the country’s people and it is influential military forces.
Wheeler said that although many suspected the North Koreans were bluffing, it would be foolish to ignore the threats of war.
“The problem that we’re all faced with is that you don’t dare disregard it, you’ve got to take it seriously but at the same time not expect anything to happen,” he said.
Expat population unknown
It is unclear how many South Africans are currently in South Korea but the country is recognised as a popular work and travel destination.
“There is a sizable expatriate community, mainly teaching English and other things,” said department of international relations' spokesperson Nelson Kgwete.
According to Kgwete there is no existing database of South Africans abroad that government can use to locate expats in an emergency.
“Except for documentation from home affairs, there is no reliable database that we can use. Even home affairs’ data is not reliable because it doesn’t tell you whether those people are there at the moment. It can only tell you which people have got visas,” he said.
The department has called on South Africans who are travelling overseas to use the registration of South Africans abroad service, which will allow officials to contact them to offer urgent advice about natural disasters or civil unrest.
Kgwete said that while government had not been called on to assist South Africans in conflict-hit countries in recent years, it had in the past assisted South Africans who had been displaced or stranded in transit because of natural disasters, including the 2011 tsunami in Japan and Hurricane Sandy, which struck New York City late last year.
“There’s no law that compels you to register but we highly recommend South Africans register because you never know when you might need it,” said Kgwete.