Tensions rising fast ahead of World Conference Against Racism

Cape Town- South Africa (PANA) -- Demonstrations are planned for Thursday in South Africa to protest against the threat by the United States to boycott the forthcoming World Conference Against Racism.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) are organising the demonstrations to be held at the US Embassy in Pretoria and the US Consulate in Durban.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima confirmed Monday that pickets will be held in the two cities on Thursday "to remind them that there is no country with a monopoly on wisdom".
The United States has indicated that it wants the conference to focus on how to alleviate discrimination and not revisit issues such as Israel, Zionism and reparations for slavery.
Negotiations over whether countries that prospered from slavery and colonialism should formally apologise for the suffering they caused - and pay compensation have been deadlocked.
The US stance is backed by several Western countries, including Britain and Canada which believe it is too divisive and complex to be addressed at the WCAR in Durban.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also agreed that the event should not focus on the past.
South Africa's official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on Monday said it is concerned that the conference will be used to demolish the "Mandela-era miracle nation image" South Africa still widely enjoys abroad.
"Instead of displaying the statesmanship which won South Africa the invitation to host the conference in the first place, the tripartite alliance appears to be reverting to type: a liberation movement itching to toyi-toyi against globalisation, the North, the West, the world financial order and Israel".
South Africa has had to do a little fancy footwork to extricate the conference from the African demand for reparations for slavery and colonialism.
"The racial blaming game does not advance reform of the world trade rules or President Mbeki's New Africa Initiative: having succeeded in removing the most unrealistic of the conference language, the ANC should be playing the rest down, not dancing it up.
It risks tripping itself up," said DA spokesman Dene Smuts.
She said Cosatu's position that no one country can dictate to others what may be discussed is "fatuous".
"It is the US that has both talked the talk and walked the walk with both Israel and the Palestinian authority throughout the decade-old peace process which is now in such desperate trouble.
"The plight of the Palestinian people certainly deserves attention: but not the kind the Arab bloc wants to give it.
"No one who cares about achieving a two-state solution in the Middle East - the only realistic solution, however ethnic in conception - can support the delegitimisation and demonization of Israel which the conference wording reportedly still constitutes, even after removal of the equation of Zionism with racism," she added.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) said the conference against racism should not be allowed to be hijacked by those with their own agendas.
The SAJBD said it views with deep concern the persistent attempts by certain lobbies to single out the state of Israel for condemnation at the forthcoming conference.
"The conference, the fundamental purpose whereof is ostensibly devoted to achieving harmony and inter-group understanding, should not be permitted to be hijacked by those with their own agendas seeking to misuse it as a propaganda weapon in their ongoing war against the democratic State of Israel," said SAJBD spokesman Yehuda Kay.
Russell Gaddin, SAJBD national chairman, said those calling for Israel to be labelled a racist state were in the main undemocratic countries which were guilty of blatant discrimination against a variety of minorities within their own borders.
This, Gaddin said, demonstrated the hypocrisy implicit in the anti-Israel drive.
The ruling African National Congress said the conference will provide a unique occasion for South Africans to reflect on the history of racial oppression, and to openly discuss and debate its continuing impact in their country.
"These debates need to explore the rich tradition of non- racial struggle that was at the heart of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid and has been central to South Africa's democratic transition.
"We need to examine the significant progress made in beginning to tackle racial discrimination and inequality in society, and identify the many areas in which all South Africans need to apply their energies in forging a non-racial and non- sexist society", said ANC spokeman Smuts Ngonyama.

13 august 2001 21:15:00

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