A victory for serendipity, more likely; Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa happened to be in China on an official visit to study state-owned enterprises last week when the arrests took place, and it’s likely that his intervention is what ensured the incident was resolved relatively quickly. Perhaps favours exchanged by the political elite in secret discussions is how Ms Nkoana-Mashabane defines diplomacy, but this is not what SA should be striving for or accepting.
The official Chinese explanation — that the group were engaged in “organising, leading or joining terrorist groups” in Mongolia, and had confessed and “repented” before being released — has been strenuously denied by the South Africans, who maintain that they merely watched a BBC documentary on Genghis Khan on a laptop computer and that this was misinterpreted by a junior official with a poor grasp of English.
This may be the way justice is applied in China, but whatever the truth of the matter, the way it has been resolved is highly unsatisfactory from the perspective of a country that used to pride itself on being a human-rights-based constitutional democracy. If those who were arrested were indeed up to no good, as alleged, they should have been charged, and if the allegations are nonsense — as seems most likely — they have a right to have their names cleared.