SA businessman goes missing in Rwanda

Relatives and friends of South African advertising industry executive Leon Orsmond are frantic for news of him after he "disappeared" in Rwanda more than a month ago.

Leon, 60, who has been living in Kigali for eight years, last made any contact with them, and posted on social media, in mid-February.

They fear he has been arrested because he was outspoken about President Paul Kagame's government and ran a social media campaign for opposition leader Diane Rwigara.

His step-daughter, Chelsey May Orsmond, told News24 that he had last used social media on February 16.

"I last spoke to him on WhatsApp on January 29... When I tried again in mid-February, I realised my messages were not going through.

"We thought we would wait a while before panicking, but obviously panic eventually kicked in, and that's when we contacted the authorities."

She said her step-father's visa and passport had both expired and his phones were off.

"He has been very outspoken on Twitter and Facebook about Kagame and lack of freedom of speech in Rwanda.

'He was seen being arrested'

"We have contacts who claim that he was seen being arrested. We have been in contact with the Rwandan High Commission in Pretoria, [the Department of] International Relations, Amnesty International South Africa, Human Rights Watch and the Rwandan national police.

"I am in the process of locating a private investigator and communicating with the Red Cross and Gift of the Givers to see if they can help," she said.

In correspondence, an official from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation told her that the South African High Commission had been in contact with the foreign ministry, the police and immigration services in Rwanda.

"They also visited the police station near Mr Orsmond's house to enquire about his whereabouts. Unfortunately, they could not provide the consular officials with any information," the official said.

Leon's cousin, Digby Orsmond, said he was running a one-man social media and online marketing agency in Kigali.

"We often swapped notes on creative designs and, after several WhatsApps on February 16, he suddenly went offline.

"He's been reported as a missing person to the Rwandan national police and we have posted images in three languages (English, French, German) on lots of Rwanda and Kigali Instagram hashtags.

'One of life's free spirits'

"A source in Kigali says that Leon probably has been arrested and detained away from Kigali by 'a higher security' force, which is why the national police probably don't know where he is.

"While he may have expressed personal opinions about freedom of speech, he posed no threat to the government. He is just a highly creative guy and is one of life's free spirits.

"A good result would be to find Leon and have Rwanda deport him back to South Africa."

A close friend and former advertising agency colleague, Philip Botha, said his last message from Leon – saying "what a booitjie" – was also on February 16.

"He was not shy to voice his opinion. He has always been a maverick. He is a strong believer in human rights. But he has an incredibly big, generous heart. I won't rest until I know what has happened to him, or he comes home."

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation did not respond to questions from News24.