South Africa's President
Thabo Mbeki and John Howard share
much in common. Both lead nations that
are middle-ranking powers whose economic
clout in their respective regions is unrivalled.
And when it comes to Iraq, both Mbeki
and Howard have been the recipients of
phone calls from George W Bush.
But that's where the common interest
ends. Whereas Howard has tucked in behind
the American flag and is backing George
Bush's war in Iraq, Thabo Mbeki has used
South Africa's clout as a middleweight
non-aligned democracy to be a facilitator
Mbeki is prepared to risk economic harm
to his country as the price of non-participation
on Iraq, as two leading South African
analysts - Greg Mills and Tim Hughes of
African Institute of International Affairs
- noted earlier this month. "If there
is credence to the argument that US actions
are driven by economic self-interest as
much as security concerns, then it will
be American, British and Australian companies
that will enjoy the spoils of post-war
reconstruction in Iraq. If so, South Africa
will not be invited to tender", they
wrote on March 16 in the South African
And unlike John Howard, Mbeki has reportedly
worked the phones relentlessly in the
past month, seeking support from fellow
African countries such as Guinea, Cameroon
and Angola, who are on the UN Security
Council, to prevent conflict in Iraq.
He has also spoken to Britain and France.
In fact, Mbeki's commitment to preventing
war appears so resolute that he personally
led anti-war rallies in his country last
month, while Howard condemned them.
Perhaps the clearest and most practical
example of South Africa's willingness
to use its middle ranking, non-aligned
status, was Mbeki's decision to send his
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aziz
Pahad, to urge Saddam Hussein to cooperate
with the UN weapons inspectors.
South Africa has some experience in dealing
with weapons inspectors - in fact Mr Howard
turned to South Africa as the model that
Iraq should follow if it wants to avoid
Howard told the media on February 5 that
Iraq must do "what South Africa did
when that country decided to renounce
dangerous weapons, invite the inspectors
Howard was referring to South Africa's
voluntary dismantling of its nuclear weapons
between 1990 and 1993.
South Africa's strong stance on the Iraq
conflict and its preparedness to snub
the US should provide a lesson to Australia.
For a start, South Africa is not facing
the possibility of terrorist activity
as a result of its stance on Iraq, whereas
there appear to be credible reports that
this is the case with Australia. One of
the leading experts on Al-Queda, Dr Rohan
Gunaratna, said earlier this month that
Australia remains in danger of a serious
terrorist strike from members of that
network operating in south-east Asia.
A threat that can only be enhanced by
Australia's willingness to participate
in a war against Iraq that is arguably
illegal in international law.
South Africa's strong opposition to the
war also reflects recognition that as
the economic powerhouse and political
leader of the African continent, it cannot
afford to jeopardise regional security
and economic integration.
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