Published on Tuesday, July 8, 2003 by the New York Times
As South Africa Awaits Bush, Anti-U.S. Feeling Is in the Air
by Lydia Polgreen
JOHANNESBURG, July 7 — As officials in Pretoria made last-minute arrangements over the weekend to ensure a warm welcome for President Bush when he arrives Tuesday evening, a graffiti writer here worked to convey a very different greeting.
"Bush go home," the writer painted on a wall along the road to the University of the Witswatersrand, a hotbed of anti-Bush activity as post-apartheid South Africa prepares to meet its second American president.
But Mr. Bush will also face a skeptical nation. He often meets protests on his foreign travels, but South Africans argue they have special grievances against him.
In particular, policy makers here worry that America's approach to foreign policy, which they see as aggressive and unilateralist, could hamper their own efforts to use diplomacy and a multilateral approach to resolve Africa's conflicts.
"American presidents are not popular human beings in this part of the world, that is simply the way it is," said Adam Habib, a professor of politics at the University of Natal. "They protested when Clinton came. But with Bush it is even worse. The way they see American foreign policy developing concerns South Africans. It is a combination of gunboat diplomacy and checkbook diplomacy that undermines other kinds of diplomacy."
In another sign of wariness here, Nelson Mandela, a must-meet for any world leader visiting South Africa, is conspicuously out of the country after criticizing Mr. Bush yet again last month over the war in Iraq.
A coalition of 300 activist groups has promised demonstrations against what they describe as America's "imperial agenda," though a dry run on Saturday drew only a few hundred people.
Newspaper writers have had stern words for Mr. Bush. An article headlined "The master of empty promises" in the weekly Mail & Guardian criticized Mr. Bush for "repackaging old promises and dazzling his critics with new pledges to be delivered on future dates."
As she talked Sunday about the presidential visit with a group of friends, Dimkatso Raphoto, 24, a receptionist from Soweto, was cynical about Mr. Bush's motives for coming to Africa, saying he was concerned only with American commercial interests and oil. "He knows nothing about Africa or the rest of the world," Ms. Raphoto said. "He mustn't come near Soweto."
This skepticism about Mr. Bush specifically and American power in general has deep roots here, said John Stremlau, a professor of international relations at the University of the Witswatersrand.
"The undercurrent here is the profound abhorrence this country has for any bully," said Mr. Stremlau, who said he had been hearing students complain about Mr. Bush's visit ever since it was announced. "There are long and painful memories of where the U.S. was on the struggle against apartheid. South Africans have always been skeptical of American leadership because they have been on the short end of that stick before."
In the 1980's, the United States waffled on imposing penalties on apartheid South Africa and did so in 1986 only after Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan's veto.
Mr. Bush will arrive in South Africa on Tuesday evening after spending the day in Senegal and will hold talks Wednesday with President Thabo Mbeki.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company