The Presidency has confirmed that President Jacob Zuma had a phone conversation with beleaguered Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, but dismissed the comments he is reported to have made as “distortions”. BBC Monitoring, the media monitoring service of the BBC, earlier this week reported Libyan television loyal to the Libyan strongman had quoted alleged extracts of the conversation.
BBC Monitoring reported yesterday that Libyan television was quoting Zuma as “stressing the need not to depend on tendentious reports circulated by foreign media outlets” during the phone call. Zuma also reportedly called on the African Union to “take decisive action and uncover the conspiracy that Libya is facing”.
Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa says “the Presidency will not be drawn into “rumours and distortions” on the matter. “President Zuma has spoken out clearly on the Libyan question,” Kodwa added in a statement. “South Africa has openly condemned the loss of life and attacks on civilians and reported violations of human rights in Libya.
“The country supports the positions taken by the African Union and the United Nations on Libya and there has never been any ambiguity about the position of either President Zuma or the country. The President stated his views and those of the country publicly as well at a press conference with President Nicolas Sarkozy of the Republic of France during the recent State Visit, where he amongst others, called for an end to violence against civilians. The Presidency will not be drawn into rumours and distortions of the conversation with the Leader of Libya, Col Muammar Gadhafi, who had called to explain his side of the story.”
Opposition Democratic Alliance party parliamentary leader Athol Trollip says the statement is “a tacit admission of wrongdoing.”
“President Zuma needs to state unequivocally to the South African people, and to the international community, that he does not support … Gadhafi, and does not believe that the pro-democracy uprising in Libya is a ‘conspiracy’, and fuelled by ‘tendentious reports circulated by foreign media outlets’… The fact is that the Presidency’s response to the DA’s call for President Zuma to clarify the rumours is both disingenuous and a tacit admission of wrongdoing.
“Had the President not made comments of this nature, the Presidency could quite simply have said so. The Presidency has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by obfuscating on this matter, if indeed the President had not said what he is alleged to have said. Thus, in stating that it would not be drawn into “rumours and distortions”, the Presidency has not only failed to refute the claims made yesterday in the international press, but it has actually further perpetuated the impression that the President has made these comments,” Trollip said.
“It is difficult, in light of the Presidency’s response, to come to any conclusion other than that the content of President Zuma’s conversation with Colonel Gadhafi was profoundly problematic. The implications of the President’s comments are manifold: first, they imply that President Zuma is unconcerned about the fact that pro-democracy demonstrators are being forcibly and violently suppressed by a dictator who has ruled with an iron fist for more than four decades. It says that our president, in essence, is unconcerned with making the correct decision, and is entirely beholden to his narrow interests.
“Secondly, the President’s comments suggest he has completely succumbed to a worldview that understands any and all international incidents to be the product of some or other conspiratorial plotting. Finally, the President has made a terrible misjudgment in engaging with Colonel Gadhafi at this time. He ought to have known that Gadhafi’s state-run press would use this exchange for propaganda purposes. If it was necessary to engage with the Libyan dictator, he ought to have made it unequivocally clear that South Africa does not support his murderous regime, which he clearly has not done.
“The Presidency must state how it reconciles this administration’s public condemnation of the Libyan authorities’ use of violence against its own people, with growing suggestions that President Zuma is backing Gaddafi behind closed doors – that he has supplied this regime with the weapons that are now being used against its citizens, and, now, that he is pledging support to the Libyan dictator,” Trollip said.