Anti-war activists made their contribution to the worldwide opposition to the impending US war on Iraq in three demonstrations in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town on 15 February.
15 February. No to war in Iraq. cwi reports from around the world. Sout Africa.
Thousands demonstrate in three cities against war
Between 8 and 10 000 demonstrators gathered at the traditional rallying point at the Library Gardens, Johannesburg to denounce US imperialist aggression in a lively demonstration. Organised by the Anti-War Coalition, consisting of 17 left political organisations, campaign groups and community organisations, the AWC was initiated and spearheaded by the Palestinian Solidarity Committee. The AWC also includes the Anti-Privatisation Forum, the Landless Peoples Movement, the Muslim Youth Association, Ceasefire Campaign, the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa) and the Socialist Student Movement (SSM – the International Socialist Resistance affiliate in South Africa). Six speakers representing faith-based organisations, the APF and Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee leader, Trevor Ngwane, addressed the rally at the start before marching towards the nearby US consular office en route to the Mary Fitzgerald Square.
Tripartite Allliance tactics
The predominant message of the demonstration was not just denunciation of US’s war aims, but also the role of the United Nations. The strength of feeling on the UN’s role, condemned by most speakers as a tool of US imperialism, was the issue that scuttled any possible agreement between the AWC and the separate, Stop the War Committee (STW) formed by the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance (including the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Fearing a repeat of the ANC government’s acute embarrassment when a counter-demonstration they organised against the Social Movement Indaba’s demonstration against the World Summit on Sustainable Development failed dismally, attracting less than 4 000 to the SMI’s 20 000, the ANC’s STW approached the AWC in writing with a proposal for a joint demonstration. Recognising this for what it was — a blatant attempt to dilute the strongly anti-imperialist and anti-US and anti-UN message of the AWC, and to super-impose upon the AWC their own pacifist position and cowardly refusal to attack the US outright – the DSM played a leading role in determining the tactical approach to this invitation. The DSM proposed a joint AWC/STW declaration based, in addition to the AWC’s four slogans – "No to war on Iraq", "No Blood for Oil", "No to US Imperialism" and "Freedom for Palestine", that the AWC should include "No trust in the UN"; "Cancellation of the Arms Deal" (the government’s R53 billion package), "No Servicing of US and UK warships" en route to the Gulf as had happened earlier in the week) and "Termination of the state arms manufacturer, Denel’s contract to supply the US military with shell casings".
Needless to say this was too much for the STW who wanted the Inkatha Freedom Party, the rightwing pro-Israeli Jewish Board of Deputies and even the Democratic Alliance to be part of a march so that "all South Africans speak with one voice."
Having failed to take over the AWC, the STW resorted to manipulation and dishonesty, claiming the 15 February demo as their own and demanding that ANC minister Ronnie Kasrils, the SACP general secretary, Blade Ndzimande and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi lead the march and have pride of place on the platform. The AWC rejected this of course and consequently, no leading Tripartite Alliance figures attended.
This caused total confusion in STW, and only a handful of ANC, SACP or Cosatu branches participated. Nevertheless the presence of a three National Union of Mineworkers branches, one of which had departed the previous evening at 12 mid-night to be part of the demonstration is indicative of the real feelings amongst working class people.
"Save the UN" campaign
So far as the STW position on the UN is concerned, it amounted to a "Save the UN campaign". Basking in the glory of praise from the US for the cooperation they demonstrated in dismantling their own WMD (inherited from apartheid and dismantled under US and UK pressure out of distrust for a new ANC government yet to prove their pro-capitalist credentials) the ANC’s message, first articulated by Nelson Mandela after his well-publicised attack on Bush and Blair (he denounced Blair as Bush’s foreign minister and the US president as a man who cannot think) the ANC’s real position is for Saddam Hussein to cooperate with the weapons inspectors. Or else face a UN sanctioned war. To complete the picture of the ANC’s craven policy to the US, Mbeki announced the day before during his address to the opening of parliament that South Africa would be sending its own experts in the dismantling of WMD to Bhagdad!
Given the competition for speakers amongst the 17 AWC affiliates, the SSM was not given an opportunity to speak. However, the DSM was given a slot at the closing rally. Well-known SSM and DSM member Luyanda Tetyana, addressing her first big rally, gave a well-received speech in which she emphasised that the ANC government’s approach would be incapable of stopping the war and amounted to aiding the US aims. She pointed out that the working class was the only force capable of stopping the war and leading society out of the horror of capitalism and war towards a socialist society. A radio station interviewed her on what the SSM and DSM stand for. This capped a very successful intervention by the SSM and DSM delegation. 1 000 leaflets and 50 posters were distributed and the DSM marched for the first time under its own banner completed just the day before. Mnay young people and workers expressed an interestin joining the DSM.
A smaller demonstration of around 1 000 organised by the Peoples Coalition Against War consisting of a number of community organisations as well as the SSM and the DSM. The ANC also participated in the demonstration and rally. The DSM/SSM delegation distributed 200 leaflets. Well-known DSM and SSM member, Xolani Shange, addressed the rally. The new university vice-chancellor, former Black Consciousness Movement leader and contemporary of Steve Biko (tortured to death by the apartheid regime) and a number of participants congratulated Xolani on his speech at the end of the rally