/ 20 March 2003

South Africa reacts to war in Iraq

As the US and its allies began air strikes on Iraq early on Thursday morning, there was widespread reaction from all quarters of the country, with many South Africans condemning the war, urging SA to stay neutral, and to focus on providing humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq.

Protests outside US consulate

A group of Anti-War Coalition members picketed the Unites States consulate in Johannesburg calling for an end to the US-led war against Iraq.

The group of about 30 people outside the consultate in Killarney carried placards and shouted ”No blood for oil”. Some of the placards read ”USA-Israel-UK axis of evil”, ”No blood for oil” and ”No to US imperialism”.

”We are not prepared to leave this area until the consul general and his country heed our call to stop the strike against Iraq,” said coalition spokesman Salim Vally, who was leading the picket.

The picketers urged passing motorists in Riviera Road to hoot as a sign of solidarity. About five policemen kept an eye on the proceedings.

Mbeki expresses regret

President Thabo Mbeki early on Thursday morning expressed his regret that the war in Iraq had started, presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo said.

The President would have preferred the matter to dealt with by the United Nations rather, Khumalo said.

He said the war ”is a blow to multilateralism”.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa emphasised that war was not a solution to the world’s problems.

Mamoepa said the government regretted the start of the war which set an ”unfortunate precedent” in dealing with world affairs.

”More than ever before the multilateral system should be used in our response to global challenges, and we call on the United Nations to assert its authority to ensure that military action is conducted within the rules of international humanitarian law.”

Mamoepa said that at the time war broke out progress was being made in removing weapons of mass destruction from Iraq though the United Nations inspection team.

”It is also regrettable that the war is occurring outside the mandate of the United Nations Security Council”.

Mamoepa said Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad had indicated on Wednesday that the challenge for both the South African government and civil society was to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq.

Mamoepa declined to comment on the possibility that South Africans might go to the Gulf help fight in Iraq.

‘Sophisticated, modern-day massacre’

The United Ulama Council of SA (UUCSA) and the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said they condemned the war ”in the strongest possible terms”.

The UUCSA is an umbrella body of the major Muslim theological schools in South Africa.

”While we don’t support (Iraqi President Saddam) Hussein, we feel Hussein has been put in power by the very people who today in trying to remove him are causing harm to the Iraqi people,” said the UUCSA’s Moulana Ebrahim Bham.

Muslim Judicial Council spokesman Moulana Ihsaan Hendricks said the war was ”a sophisticated, modern-day massacre”.

Bham said the council felt that diplomacy should have been used to resolve the conflict.

Hendricks appealed to the entire South African community to support the anti-war campaign.

”It is a humanitarian call in aid of the Iraqi peoples and should not be interpreted as a Muslims-only call.”

Mandela stays mum

Former president Nelson Mandela’s views on a war on Iraq was on record, and he did not believe it was necessary to comment again, his representative Zelda la Grange said.

”He feels he said what was necessary to be said and he won’t be issuing a statement,” she said.

Mandela has repeatedly criticised the United States and Britain for its stance towards Iraq, and stated he would continue to speak out against any party or country wishing to act outside the United Nations.

However, while publicly attacking US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mandela also urged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to fully co-operate with UN weapons’ inspectors.

SA must distance itself from Iraq, says Leon

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon called on South Africa to distance itself from the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein and to prepare to offer such humanitarian assistance as it was able to.

”War is a terrible thing and we regret the crisis couldn’t be solved by diplomatic means.”

He also said South Africa should be prepared to assist in the building of a democratic Iraq once the conflict ended.

‘SA must stay neutral’

The New National Party (NNP) foreign affairs spokesman Dr Boy Geldenhuys said the NNP had from the very start believed the US was going to attack unilaterally.

”It is very important for South Africa to stay neutral. Humanitarian aids must be encouraged but South Africa should at all cost not be seen to support Saddam Hussein,” he said.

He said the NNP hoped the war would be over quickly, even though it seemed unlikely.

”We hope the targets will be the military targets and not civilians.”

IFP worried about ‘regime change’ doctrine

Inkatha Freedom Party spokesman Musa Zondi said he hoped the war would be swiftly concluded with minimal loss of life.

”While it is clear that Saddam is in material breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the IFP had hoped that the present crisis could have been averted by the United Nations bringing diplomatic pressure on Iraq to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction.”

The IFP shared the ”universal revulsion at Saddam’s regime of tyranny and bloodshed, but had deep concerns about the new doctrine of regime change”, Zondi said.

It was also concerned about the real possibility that unilateral action against Iraq could be in breach of international law and the UN Charter. – Sapa