Media keen on run-up to World Conference Against Racism

Johannesburg - South Africa (PANA) -- The World Conference Against Racism captured media attention in South Africa this week with the spotlight beaming mainly on the US over its unmoving stance on Israel.
Arguments about the wording of the agenda on Zionism and reparations for slavery reached a head in the week when the US reiterated threats to withdraw from the conference.
The Business Day reported on Tuesday that the US secretary of state Colin Powell was no longer attending the Durban conference due to the anti-Israeli tone in the programme and advance debates.
State department spokesperson Richard Boucher was quoted as saying: "the exact nature of and level of our representation, if any, is still being considered".
The Sowetan reported that there was a growing pro- Palestinian sentiment in South Africa, highlighted by marches and demands that Zionism be equated with racism.
Ordinary Americans have not been held incommunicado.
This week a 50-member delegation from the US of Black Leadership forum, in Durban to attend the conference, said American people did not need the Bush administration to represent them.
The Star reported that they lashed out at their president labelling him a racist.
A columnist in the Business Day said the Bush administration may have done the world an unwitting favour by digging in on reparations for slavery and Zionism as agenda items for the conference which starts Friday.
"What the Americans have done is force these issues, pretty much dead since the 1970's, back into the domestic and international limelight," wrote Drew Forrest.
"There can be little doubt that the public wrangle over whether Zionism is a form of racism has coloured world perceptions of extra-judicial executions, collective punishments and other Israeli policies in occupied territories.
Because this is how the conference should be seen -- not so much as a decision-making affair, but as an attempt to shape world perceptions and entrench certain norms.
" But not everyone was philosophical.
Delegates to the Non- Governmental Organisation Forum, which precedes the WCAR, criticised President Thabo Mbeki Tuesday for failing to pronounce on key issues.
The Star reported that labour movement activist, Oupa Lehulere, described Mbeki's address as a "very well done public relations job".
Mbeki, who opened the NGO forum, fell short of condemning the US stance that it would not attend the conference if the issue of the Middle East were on the agenda.
Lehulere said Mbeki had failed to address issues such as the plight of the Palestinians, the Dalit people of India and the people of Africa who get beaten on our South African streets every day.
" (The activist was apparently referring to frequent reports of xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa).
Tony Leon leader of the South African opposition Democratic Alliance warned against focussing sorely on Israel.
"If the conference wants to talk about racism in the widest terms, then it should proceed from A to Z.
Start with Afghanistan's apartheid against women, and tackle Zionism at the end of the list, after Zimbabwe," The Citizen quoted Leon as saying.
But while many South Africans regarded racism and related intolerance as serious problems, the paper observed that they were more concerned about crime.
They also worried about unemployment.
The arrival of UN secretary general Kofi Annan on Wednesday temporarily diverted attention from the US.
And the nation-wide two-day anti-privatisation strike called for by Cosatu aslo caused a distraction.
Needless to mention that the US stuck out in the background like a sore thumb as the world waited to see its next move.
The US has not cancelled hotel bookings so they may still be an outside chance that some from America may attend.

30 august 2001 20:24:00

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