19 Sep 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: A Bridge Between U.S. and Developing World

South Africa is attempting to act as a bridge between the United States and the developing world as Washington attempts to build a global coalition to fight international terrorism.

''South Africa can play a constructive role if it presses the U.S. to remember - when it wants to act like a cowboy - that it will alienate the countries of the South, that it should rather consult them and move with them,'' says University of the Witwatersrand foreign affairs analyst, John Stremlau. South Africa is an influential player in the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and chairs the Commonwealth and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

''South Africa will co-operate with all efforts to apprehend the culprits and bring them to book. It recognises the right of the U.S. government to track down the culprits and bring them to justice,'' says a spokesperson for the South Africa Cabinet, Joel Netshitenzhe. However, he adds, ''Any action taken should be informed by thorough investigation and incontrovertible evidence. Acts of vengeance or mobilisation directed against individuals, communities or nations simply because of their faith, language or colour cannot be justified.''

''In the least, terrorists should be isolated through international co-operation to build an equitable world order. This medium term challenge includes concerted efforts to resolve conflicts in all parts of the globe and a joint commitment throughout the world to eradicate poverty and underdevelopment. South Africa can point out that rather than spending all their time trashing terrorists, the U.S. should back the development of African countries - through the New Africa Initiative, for example,'' he says.

The New African Initiative is a programme to develop political stability and kick-start economic development on the continent. South African President, Thabo Mbeki, is one of the key promoters of the programme that he has made the centrepiece of his term in office. Stremlau points out that the fight against international terrorism is not primarily a military challenge, but requires co-operation on intelligence and policing issues between the countries of the world.

South Africa has already handed a Tanzanian citizen, Khalfan Mohamed, who has been convicted of charges connected with the bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, to the United States for trial. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracked Mohammed, who they suspected of the bombing, to Cape Town, South Africa. He was living in the country under a false name and with a fake passport. The South African authorities arrested him, in October 1999, and handed him over to the FBI, who took him to the United States for trial. South Africa insists Mohamed - when faced with deportation - requested to go to the United States.

In the meantime, the South African Cabinet also has decided not to declare a national day of mourning or lower the nation's flag in sympathy with those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.

The South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, says South Africa did not lower its flag when some 200 Angolans were killed in terrorist attacks two weeks ago; or when thousands of Mozambicans died in floods last year; or when about a million people where killed in civil conflicts in central Africa.

However, she says South Africa is developing a policy around how it will deal with terror incidents in future (IPS).

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