The South African government says it remains concerned about the running battles between police and pro-democracy protesters in some parts of the continent. From the Libyan conflict to the situation in Cote d’Ivoire and the recent clashes in the neighbouring Kingdom of Swaziland, Pretoria has made fresh calls for calm and restraint.
Briefing the media on current international issues, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s tone was stern – the time had come for military arms to be put down and for national reconciliation to begin, the state BuaNews agency reported.
With regards to Libya – the minister reported on last week’s visit to by the African Union (AU) Ad-hoc High Level Committee – which President Jacob Zuma is part of. Nkoana-Mashabane said the five-member panel was there to present a roadmap, which calls for the immediate end to all hostilities, cooperation on the part of the relevant Libyan authorities to facilitate humanitarian aid, and protection for all foreign nationals, including African migrant workers.
The committee first gathered in Mauritania before heading off to Tripoli, where they met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and then held another meeting with the Interim Transitional National Council in Benghazi, which represents the opposition. Gaddafi accepted the roadmap, while the transitional council rejected the deal.
Nkoana-Mashabane said while Pretoria supported the AU’s plan for Libya, only an inclusive dialogue among the Libyan parties on the appropriate reforms will ensure a lasting solution in Libya, BuaNews says. “We also call upon both parties to implement an immediate ceasefire to bring an end to further loss of life and the destruction of property.”
The AU, which is opposed to foreign military intervention, wants to facilitate dialogue between the Libyan parties and favours putting in place an inclusive transition period that will lead to the elections of democratic institutions. SA voted in favour of the UN Security Council’s no- fly zone.
Government has partially reopened the embassy in Tripoli, which would enable officials to get more clarity on the missing SA photographer, Anton Hammerl. Hammerl and two journalists from the US and Spain, were captured in eastern Libya 10 days ago. Citing safety concerns, Nkoana-Mashabane refused to divulge any more details on whether they knew Hammerl’s whereabouts, but indicated that they were working with the American government to bring about the release of Hammerl and the other journalists. She said her department was providing consular services to the family and called on the country to include him in their prayers. She also appealed to those who captured Hammerl to release him.
Moving to the situation in Ivory Coast, Nkoana-Mashabane said while stability was emerging, there were still reports of looting in some parts of the country. After four months of a bitter and violent stand-off between Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara following a disputed election, Gbagbo was arrested with his wife last Monday after troops stormed his presidential palace. Last Wednesday, Ouattara began stamping his authority on the country by vowing to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate allegations that both sides in the conflict committed atrocities against civilians.
Senior members of Gbagbo’s security forces have now begun to align themselves to the new government, including General Georges Guiai Bi Poin and army chief of staff Phillippe Mangou.
Pretoria hoped these developments would pave the way for the return of the country to peace and stability. “In the aftermath of this conflict, the challenge facing the Ivorian leadership is to unify the country and work towards nation building, healing and reconciliation,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.
Closer to home in Swaziland, the minister reiterated the call made by her department last week for calm dialogue among the relevant parties, with a view to seek a speedy and peaceful solution to the situation. Last week saw pro-democracy demonstrations in the city of Manzini. According to reports, Swazi police fired teargas, used water cannons, beat up protesters with batons and arrested hundreds to stop a banned march against King Mswati III, who is accused of bankrupting state coffers, while his country battles poverty and Aids.
The minister said South Africa was willing to work with the people of Swaziland in deciding what is best for their country and democracy. “We will work with the people of Swaziland to bring their own outcome … their own desires of what kind of democracy they want.” She said SADC leaders were in constant contact with the king to try to find a solution.
Responding to reported unrest in Burkina Faso and Uganda, Nkoana-Mashabane said her department would continue to monitor and assess the situations closely. However, she urged the media to guard against labelling any protest as revolutionary, BuaNews said.