Rwanda Opposition Figure Is Killed in South Africa

By Lynsey Chutel and Abdi Latif Dahir

South African authorities said that for now they were treating the case as a robbery, but the political allies of the man who was shot, Seif Bamporiki, had their suspicions of an assassination.

Seif Bamporiki, right, a Rwandan opposition figure living in exile, was killed in Cape Town on Sunday. “He was the kind of human being who understood the kind of struggle we are in,” said Serge Ndayizeye, left.
Seif Bamporiki, right, a Rwandan opposition figure living in exile, was killed in Cape Town on Sunday. “He was the kind of human being who understood the kind of struggle we are in,” said Serge Ndayizeye, left.Credit...Serge Ndayizeye

Lynsey Chutel and

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — A Rwandan opposition figure was shot and killed in South Africa on Sunday in what the police said was most likely a robbery but that political allies said resembled earlier assassinations of government critics.

Seif Bamporiki was shot in Cape Town sometime after 4 p.m. while making a delivery, his political party, the Rwanda National Congress, said in a statement.

Accompanied by a friend, Mr. Bamporiki, a 49-year-old Rwandan exile, arrived in Nyanga township to hand over a bed from his store to a client when two men approached his truck and one of them shot him, the party said. The men took him out the vehicle and fled with it along with some belongings, the South African police said.

Mr. Bamporiki’s friend, another Rwandan, was reported to have escaped unharmed.

On Monday, the police said they were investigating the circumstances surrounding the killing and had yet to apprehend any suspects. “We have reason to believe that the motive for the murder was robbery,” Col. Andrè Traut, the provincial commander for media communication for the Western Cape province, said in a statement.

But the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition group in exile formed by former members of President Paul Kagame’s inner circle, said the killing was reminiscent of past cases in which critics of President Kagame were lured to “a compromising and insecure environment” and then murdered.

“While investigations are going on to determine the exact circumstances of Mr. Bamporiki’ s assassination, the incident resembles assassinations that happened before, where the victims were lured by people they knew; but who fatally betrayed them to death,” Etienne Mutabazi, the R.N.C. spokesman, said in a statement.

Human rights groups have often accused the Kagame government of reaching beyond Rwandan borders to target opponents, including through spyware attacks, kidnapping and assassination.

Mr. Kagame, who officially became president in 2000, but has held power in Rwanda since 1994, has denied these allegations,

In 2014, a former Rwandan intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya, was found dead in a hotel room in Johannesburg after he went to meet a friend; he had been strangled.

In 2010, another member of the R.N.C., a former army chief named Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot and wounded in Johannesburg.

The killings of Rwandan dissidents in South Africa had led to diplomatic strains between the two countries, including the expulsion of diplomats, before a thaw in relations under the current South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Lunga Ngqengelele, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said that South Africa and Rwanda continue to enjoy “good working relations.”

Of Mr. Bamporiki’s killing, Mr. Ngqengelele said, “We are being led by the police, and so far they have not indicated that this is a political killing.”

Beyond South Africa, Rwandan government critics have also been targeted elsewhere. In Kenya, a former minister was shot dead in 1998 months after he said he was afraid for his life. In Belgium, a former government official’s mangled body was found floating in a canal in 2005.

And last August, after an elaborate ruse that Mr. Kagame called “flawless, Paul Rusesabagina, a government critic who was credited for saving 1,268 lives during the Rwandan genocide, was arrested and charged with terrorism. That case has drawn worldwide condemnation.

In the case of Mr. Bamporiki, the man who ostensibly lured him to his death had been calling him consistently for a week, insistent that he wanted to buy a bed from his shop, Mr. Mutabazi, the R.N.C. spokesman, said on Monday. Mr. Bamporiki was at a party conference in Johannesburg at the time, but did not suspect anything untoward, Mr. Mutabazi said.

“Bamporiki was the kind of peaceful man who could not believe that one would plan to kill him,” he said.

Mr. Bamporiki, who was among a group of Rwandans who sued their government over the invalidation of their passports and won, was a permanent resident in South Africa at the time of his death.

Mr. Bamporiki had only just returned to Cape Town on Sunday morning when the supposed customer, a South African, called him again. he set off to deliver the bed, just over a mile from his shop.

Nyanga, the township where the murder took place, has some of the highest murder rates in South Africa. Wary of the neighborhood, Mr. Bamporiki parked his delivery truck in a position where he could quickly leave if there was trouble. But he was not prepared for the two men who sneaked up on him, Mr. Mutabazi said.

On Monday, those who knew Mr. Bamporiki said they would miss his rousing speeches and his activism.

“I have been crying since yesterday when I got the news,” Serge Ndayizeye, who manages the party’s official radio station, said from Washington, D.C. “He was the kind of human being who understood the kind of struggle we are in.”

Lynsey Chutel reported from Cape Town and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.