FILE - Rwandan president Paul Kagame during a conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
FILE - Rwandan president Paul Kagame during a conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

JOHANNESBURG - It has not been a good few months for diplomatic relations between South Africa and Rwanda.

Undated photo taken in Kigale, Rwanda, of Patrick
Undated photo taken in Kigale, Rwanda, of Patrick Karegeya, Rwanda's former spy chief who was found dead, possibly strangled, in a hotel in South Africa.

Two high-profile Rwandans who'd sought asylum in South Africa were attacked.   A former Rwandan intelligence chief, Patrick Kareyega, was found strangled to death in his Johannesburg hotel room on New Year's Day.  

FILE - Exiled Rwandan General Faustin Kayumba Nyam
FILE - Exiled Rwandan General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa looks on during his court appearance in Johannesburg.

Then, in early March, armed men broke into the safe house of former Rwandan military chief Faustin Nyamwasa.  The South African government said it was an attempt on his life.  

Kareyega and Nyamwasa had a lot in common.  Both had a falling out with Rwandan President Paul Kagame; both sought refuge in South Africa; and both were among former top army officers who started an exiled opposition party.

South Africa accused four Rwandan diplomats of playing a part in the attack on Nyamwasa's home, and expelled them.  In return, Rwanda - which has denied any link to either case - kicked out six South African diplomats.

Koffi Kouakou, an Africa analyst at the University of Witswatersand School of Governance in Johannesburg, said the recent developments show that South Africa cannot protect asylum seekers.

"In fact, South Africa is quite kind and very meek to a large degree.  South Africa is very weak in its response to what’s been happening on its own territorial integrity -- where you have people violating it, assassinating other people. So there's a grave issue of security.  But also, most important, insecurity in South Africa.  So anybody can walk into the territory of South Africa and do whatever they want to do and then just leave.  And that is sending a wrong signal," said Kouakou.

Rwandan officials have long maintained that some of the anti-Kagame dissidents living abroad -- including those in South Africa - have planned or carried out grenade attacks against Rwandans.

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo posted a series of tweets in March, accusing South Africa of protecting terrorists while expelling law-abiding diplomats.
Meanwhile, Rwanda has denied all allegations that it targets political opponents at home or abroad.  But at the same time, President Kagame also seems intent on sending a message to his former allies.  

In the weeks after Kareyega's murder, he said: "You cannot betray Rwanda and get away with it. There are consequences for betraying your country."

With tensions so public, what is the next step for South Africa and Rwanda?

Westen Shilaho, a research fellow of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg, said while tensions have escalated, it seems that both countries have left room for negotiation, with neither government expelling the heads of their respective diplomatic missions.

He noted Rwanda is an important player and ally in Africa's Great Lakes region, and South Africa is very important for Rwanda, as it helped the country rebuild after the genocide and has given Rwandans cheap education in South Africa.

"I don't think they will fall out entirely… My take is that they will find a way of meeting each other and resolve this matter and try and bring the diplomatic situation back to where it was before now," Shilaho said.

In the meantime, South Africa's Department of International Relations has issued a stern warning that action will be taken against any individual or group that abuses the human rights laws of the country.