/ 17 October 2018

SA government ‘concerned’ over Khashoggi, still open to business with Saudi

Jamal Khashoggi speaking at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London in September 2018.
Jamal Khashoggi speaking at an event hosted by Middle East Monitor in London in September 2018. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

The department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) has expressed “concern” over the “disappearance” of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but will continue to support business with the Gulf state despite allegations that government officials were involved in Khashoggi’s alleged death.

Khashoggi’s body has yet to be found, but according to numerous reports the journalist was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and dismembered and buried on the consulate grounds.

The South African government has faced pressure to squash a potential deal between Saudi and South African-owned arms manufacturer Denel, but the deal remains ongoing despite reports of Khashoggi’s gruesome killing.

“The president [Cyril Ramaphosa] visited Saudi Arabia this year when he asked countries to invest in South Africa. The talks with Denel is driven by that,” said Dirco spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya.

Earlier today, the department released a statement calling on the Turkish and Saudi Arabian government to maintain diplomacy.

“Government welcomes the ongoing diplomatic interaction between the Republic of Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as the investigation which seeks to get to the bottom of this matter,” the department said. “We trust that this investigation will provide clarity and answers regarding the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi.”

Sources inside the Turkish government have told international news outlets — which include the Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked as a columnist, Al Jazeera, and CNN — that 15 Saudi officials flew into Istanbul on the day Khashoggi is believed to have been murdered.

Khashoggi arrived at the consulate on October 8 to finalise his documents for his coming marriage to his fiance. While video footage has emerged of Khashoggi entering the consulate, the Saudis have yet to produce footage of him leaving the building.

An audio recording, reportedly released by Turkish officials, has now surfaced. Reports have claimed that the recording shows Khashoggi was tortured and then dismembered. The audio also reportedly shows that Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a Saudi military forensics official, reportedly listened to music as he dismembered Khashoggi’s body.

The alarming circumstances around Khashoggi’s alleged killing has led to widespread condemnation of the Saudi government, and especially Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS). Khashoggi had criticised MBS’s regime and had started a new a organisation in the United States called Democracy for the Arab World Now. Some reports indicate that MBS had wanted to “silence” Khashoggi as he attempted to woo countries like the US to invest in Saudi Arabia.

South Africa’s international relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu meanwhile has confirmed that the Saudi government is eager to purchase a stake in Denel.

“There have been overtures by Saudi Arabia to buy a stake in our ailing Denel. I do not know what the outcome of those negotiations will be when it gets to the NCACC (National Conventional Arms Control Committee),” Sisulu said at a briefing last week.

Denel has welcomed any potential Saudi interest, and has said that it has a strong working relationship with the Saudis.

Saudi Arabia has been forced to rely on arms imports to beef up its military resources, but it has now sought to independently arm itself by strengthening its local manufacturing capacity. The country, which has been condemned for killing civilians in Yemen, is aiming to conclude partnership agreements with arms companies in South Africa before the end of the year.

The department of international relations has meanwhile remained mum on allegations that the Saudis may be involved in Khashoggi’s death.