Will Bush get a hostile reception in Africa?

By Time of article published Jun 27, 2003

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Johannesburg - United States President George Bush is expected to receive a hostile reception from thousands of protesters when he arrives in South Africa next month on a week-long trip to the African continent.

The American president, who is scheduled to arrive in South Africa on the evening of July 8, is expected to meet President Thabo Mbeki at the Union Buildings in Pretoria the following day, before heading off to Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria and Senegal.

The Anti-War Coalition, which is supported by about 300 organisations, is opposed to the visit by Bush, whose country led the recent war against Iraq. The Anti-War Coalition hopes to pressure Mbeki into cancelling the talks.

It will hold nationwide protests next Saturday, ahead of Bush's visit, and also hopes to demonstrate outside the Union Buildings on the day the meeting between the two presidents.

Although the protests at the Union Buildings have yet to be approved, they are likely to be sanctioned by authorities.

Selby Bokaba, spokesperson for Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, said on Friday that the protest application would have to meet the same criteria as any other protest.

"As long as people follow the correct channels of applying and meeting the requirements (for protests), their applications will be considered. Anyone that complies with the requirements will have the right to march," he said.

Meanwhile, the United States Embassy, for its part, remained unfazed by the protests.

Embassy spokesperson Judy Moon said on Friday: "Freedom of speech and peoples' right to protest is enshrined in America's national identity. South Africans have every right to protest about issues they feel strongly about.

"We are in fact happy they enjoy the same freedoms that we do," said Moon.

Regarding security, Moon expressed confidence in the South African government's ability to protect the American president and to oversee peaceful demonstrations at the same time.

"The South African government is responsible for the security of the president during his visit here. Obviously when they approve or disapprove protests, they will be looking at them in the context of their ability to provide adequate security.

"Our security people will of course co-operate with the South African security people on all levels... we don't expect any problems. We've had other senior government officials and US presidents come here... we have good co-operation," said Moon.

Bokaba said he did not envision any extra-ordinary security measures being enforced at the protests, including the ones at the Union Buildings.

"The march will be secured and monitored like any other march. If they march, police will be there, the protesters will hand over their memorandum and then they'll disperse. As long as they don't cause chaos, the march will be like any other march," he said.

An advance team for the US president, who will land at a South African military airport, is already in the country implementing security measures along with local agencies.

Henri Boshoff, a military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies, said the government was employing a strict policy that it was primarily responsible for Bush's security and would not allow the Americans to take over.

He said South Africa had in the past successfully protected many VIPs and there had never been a recorded incident of an attack against a visiting head of state or high-level government diplomat.

Ross Herbert, a research fellow at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said South African protests, compared to those elsewhere in the world, were small.

"Rarely has South Africa put out a protest in the hundreds of thousands. Bush is well versed in the fact that the left (wing) don't like him and he frankly doesn't care: he puts his opinion out there and you either like or you don't.

"Former US president Bill Clinton wanted to conduct his tour of Africa as a kind of warm 'fuzzy'. I don't think Bush is trying to woo the public and I don't think the South African government will block anti-Bush protests.

"Bush will listen to the protesters but they are not going to dissuade him from saying what he wants to say. He behaves differently from Clinton. Clinton would always try to mollify the critics while Bush is much more of a conviction politician."

During his trip to the continent, Bush is expected to focus on the new US law paving they way for funding to fight HIV and Aids in 12 African and two Caribbean countries to be trebled.

The programme aims to prevent seven million new infections, care for 10 million sufferers and provide treatment for two million people. Annual spending for the five-year programme must still be approved by the US Congress. - Sapa

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