20 March 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: Salutes growing global movement against the Iraq War

The South African government has joined civil society in expressing its regret at the outbreak of war against Iraq, while also saluting the growing peace movement ranged against conflict. ''We regret the launch of unilateral action against Iraq. War is not a solution to world problems,'' said Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Thursday, March 20.

Her words came as protests kicked off in major cities including Cape Town and Johannesburg. In Cape Town, about 100 protestors came out to protest at midday, more were expected after work and as the organisers got the word out. Among them were unionists, community leaders and ordinary people. They carried posters saying ''Dumb, dumber Bush'' and ''Who let the dogs out?''. And in the centre of Johannesburg, an estimated 2000 landless activists split their planned protest into two causes - both an anti-eviction march and a protest against war. An U.S. flag was burned in the protest, as chants of ''Phantsi Bush; Phantsi U.S.'' filled the air. ''Phantsi'' means ''down with''. At the U.S. consulate also in Johannesburg, protestors began a 24-hour picket. Motorists hooted and gave the thumbs-up in support. Earlier in the day school-girls from the Parktown Girls High School in the city also protested.

In Johannesburg, as it is in most capitals, it is clear that the U.S. message that it is acting on behalf of global citizens is falling on deaf ears. Government, in an earlier statement, lamented the impact of war on multilateralism. ''(It) sets a regrettable precedent which undermines the authority of the United Nations in dealing with global affairs. More than at any other time, the current age of integrated global economies and relations requires integrated global governance,'' said Cabinet spokesperson Joel Netshitenzhe.

The country's largest trade union federation, the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), also joined the fray of protest. Calling Thursday a ''sad day for world peace'', union spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the day marked ''naked aggression and certainly not war. War takes place between two countries with relatively the same strength - this is no war, it is invasion and mass murder of the defenceless people of Iraq''.

While there cannot be said to be any single African opinion or response to the war, South Africa has been joined by Nigeria and Senegal in warning that the war would have costly implications for Africa. ''We in Africa are apprehensive that any war in Iraq will have a monumental effect on African development. The destructive effect would be universal and would further the destabilisation of the Middle East as well as shatter world peace,'' said Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal earlier this month. With Iraqi reconstruction likely to cost billions, aid organisations have began to worry that African aid could be diverted in an era of declining funding. As the first strikes began, world leaders from Japan, Britain, European and also U.S. officials began pledging for reconstruction. While a hierarchy of need cannot be set up, there is every chance that African regeneration could fall from the donor map as another, and unexpected humanitarian crisis takes precedence. (IPS)


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