President Jacob Zuma took advantage of a phone call from Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi to tell him South Africa abhorred the “heinous violation of human rights against his own people”, international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says. “We took advantage through our President to tell him this has to stop with immediate effect,” she adds.
Nkoana-Mashabane told a media briefing in Pretoria Zuma also told the long-time Libyan strongman that South Africa led a campaign to suspend Libya from the UN Human Rights Council based in Geneva, Switzerland. The body is currently headed by South African judge Navi Pillay.
The minister also likened Gadhafi’s actions to the 1961 Sharpeville and 1976 Soweto massacres of unarmed civilians by Apartheid security forces.
Zuma’s office refused on Wednesday to confirm or deny reports about what he said to the embattled Libyan leader as reported by the BBC, crediting Libyan TV. Libyan TV allegedly quoted Zuma as calling on the African Union (AU) to “take decisive action and uncover the conspiracy that Libyan (sic) is facing”.
Zuma was also quoted as “stressing the need not to depend on tendentious reports circulated by foreign media outlets and the need to listen to the Libyan media in this regard”. His office issued a statement late on Wednesday saying that it “would not be drawn into rumours and distortions of the conversation with Gaddafi, who had called to explain his side of the story”.
The Presidency also said that Zuma had spoken out “clearly” on the Libyan issue, openly condemning the loss of life, 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.”
Nkoana-Mashabane emphasised that South Africa not only supported but also co-sponsored the United Nations Security Council resolution last month imposing sanctions and an arms embargo on Gadhafi. “It is only President Zuma who has consistently followed up on the many misadventures by Gadhafi in the AU. When Gadhafi tried to remain permanent president or chairman of the AU, it was President Zuma who confronted him and told him, ‘We have to respect the statutes of the AU and if you try to do that, we will embarrass you by making sure you do not become permanent chairman or president’.” Zuma had also “taken Gadhafi to task” at the AU summit in 2010 when he proposed a resolution to transform the AU into a “United States of Africa”
She declined to say whether South Africa supported proposals to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi’s forces bombing opposition towns and cities.