17 February 2003

South Africa: Anti-War Marches in Four Cities, SA Sends Mission to Iraq

Johannesburg — Thousands of anti-war protestors in South Africa joined marches around the world on Saturday to protest against the prospective war on Iraq spearheaded by the United States and Britain.

Peaceful marchers took to the streets of the commercial capital, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein, stopping at American embassies and diplomatic missions in these cities in solidarity with millions of protestors on other continents.

In Johannesburg, between 8,000 and 10,000 people toyi-toyied and marched in a colourful anti-war demonstration, stopping at the US consulate-general to hand over a manifesto. Riot police guarding the building formed a protective chain at the entrance.

One protestor in Johannesburg waved a banner saying "Bush, unshackle the world with your arrogance, now". Another, wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt sang, African gospel style, "Thank God I am not American". The anti-war message was articulated repeatedly by marchers and speakers.

The Anti-War Coalition, which organised the rallies - in alliance with the Stop the War campaign of the Congress of South African Trades Unions (Cosatu) - announced that it opposed the US-led war plans for Iraq as well as any action proposed by the United Nations.

Prominent politicians from South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) joined the marches, where banners reading "By George, Bush is just an empty warhead" and "Stop the War America, UK and Israel," "Blix, start searching Israel,"were hoisted high above protestors’ heads.

"We will stop the war. The voice of the people will be heard, " the South African Water Affairs and Forestry Minister, Ronnie Kasrils, told the crowd in Cape Town.

Other placards focused squarely on the American and British leaders saying "Bush and Blair are Blood Brothers", "Behind Every Bush is a Terrorist", "Disarm the warmongers too", and "US, UK, Israel - axis of hypocrisy". Protestors chanted "No blood for oil" and "Quit the oil war", as they waved banners saying "Bush, declare your weapons of mass destruction".

Demonstrators were told that war on Iraq was not an answer and had little to do with weapons of mass destruction or human rights. Speaker after speaker repeated that the conflict was more about President Saddam Hussein’s control of Iraq’s strategic oil reserves.

The mass media were also not to be trusted, because they were a "weapon of mass deception", other speakers said.

Anti-war sentiment in South Africa appears to be gathering steam and the leadership in Pretoria has moved centre stage in the diplomatic efforts to avert a war on Iraq.

On Sunday, President Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, dismissed the global anti-war fervour. She warned that Washington was losing patience with the diplomatic initiatives to force Iraq to disarm.

"It is time for this to end. Enough is enough," said Rice. "We don’t want a (UN) Security Council resolution that somehow is a delaying tactic. The Security council cannot continue on this path for much longer."

President Thabo Mbeki announced last week that he was dispatching a team of technical experts to Iraq, to share South Africa’s own experience of weapons’ disarmament. The move appeared to have the tacit support and blessing of the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and the weapons’ inspectors. The Iraqi leader appears to have accepted the South African mission.

The example of Pretoria dismantling its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons has received high praise from the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix.

Mbeki is the current chairman of both the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the African Union (AU). The South African deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, returned from a mission to Baghdad last week. He held a 90-minute meeting with the Iraqi president.

The South African president is preparing to leave for France this week, where he will attend the Franco-African summit to be hosted by President Jacques Chirac on Thursday and Friday. Iraq is expected to feature high on the summit agenda, as is the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. France is leading the anti-Iraq war effort in Europe.

"I believe our experts will be able to help the Iraqis and make a contribution to avoiding a war, " said Pahad, adding, "we will urge the Iraqi leadership to cooperate." The minister said a war on Iraq would have long-term economic and security consequences that would be disastrous.

Other South African commentators have echoed that the price of war on Iraq, and its consequences, would condemn Africa to a deep economic crisis.

The South African team, which Mbeki said would leave soon on its mission to Iraq, is to be made up of scientists, engineers and technicians involved in South Africa’s weapons’ programme.

"We had one of the most advanced chemical and biological programmes in the world," Pahad underlined in a briefing for journalists in Cape Town. "We don’t want people with only a book knowledge of these things. They must have direct experience of dismantling these programmes."

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