Ten South Africans, nine Britons, and one Indian national on an extended tour of China have been detained without charge by Chinese authorities in Erdos, a city in the northern province of Inner Mongolia, since Friday.
According to Gift of the Givers, who alerted the South African government to their detention on Sunday, “the Chinese government has agreed to release half the South Africans as a result of a meeting between the South African and British embassies with the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday.
“The South Africans to be released will remain in detention until a flight is found for them, probably only on July 17.”
The fate of the remaining five South Africans hangs in the balance. Three of the five are direct relatives of Shameel Joosub, chief executive of Vodacom, and include an Umkhonto weSizwe veteran of the Luthuli detachment who spent 27 years in exile.
“My family and I are deeply concerned about the security and wellbeing of my brother, aunt and uncle,” Joosub said.
Joosub’s brother Salim is the chief executive of Capital and Financial Brokers.
The other two South Africans are Dr Feroz Suliman, a general surgeon at Waterfall Hospital, and his wife Dr Shehnaaz Mohamed, also a medical doctor.
The Chinese Embassy in Pretoria told Independent Media they currently have no information on the matter, although the Department of International Relations and Co-operation confirmed on Tuesday that the group of South Africans were arrested in Erdos.
According to relatives of those detained, no reasons were given for their arrest, their cellphones were confiscated, and they had no access to their embassies, families or legal representation.
Gift of the Givers said the Chinese government had suggested that some members were linked to a terror group and had been watching propaganda videos in their hotel room.
“This is the month of Ramadaan, and the South Africans were likely watching videos of Islamic prayers, as many of us do in the evenings,” Sooliman said.
The South Africans had been part of the 20-person tour of China organised by China Odyssey Tours, and had already been in the country for 30 days of their 47-day tour.
Independent Media has been told that Shameel Joosub spoke to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa directly about this matter.
Ramaphosa arrived in China on Monday on an official visit to boost trade relations between South Africa and China. Whether Ramaphosa raised the issue of the detained South Africans with his counterpart Vice-President Li Yuan Chao is unclear.
Ramaphosa was due to discuss trade, investment, financial co-operation, infrastructure development, the new Brics bank and energy issues.
The Chinese government hosted a banquet in his honour on Tuesday with the leadership of the Chinese Academy of Governance. “We certainly hope that the deputy president raised this issue with the Chinese,” Sooliman said.
Erdos, the city where the South Africans are being detained, shot to fame in the Western world following a YouTube video showing it to be largely a ghost city of empty three-lane highways, vacant apartments and grand statues of frolicking horses.
The once impoverished region was self-funded from its extraordinary growth in wealth. Erdos has huge coal deposits, and the city’s per capital gross domestic product is higher than that of Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, attempts to obtain comment from former SA ambassador to China Lazzy Chiwayo, drew blank.