JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Rising anti-American sentiment fueled by discontent over the U.S.-led war in Iraq is casting a shadow over President Bush's visit to South Africa.
Scores of disgruntled South Africans have protested this week outside the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and the consulates in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
"The whole African tour is a diversion away from Iraq," said Shaheed Mahomed, chairman of the Anti-War Coalition in Cape Town. "This do-gooder visit is in response to a new Vietnam syndrome rising, as more and more body bags go to the U.S."
Anti-war coalition supporters stage a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, Wednesday, July 9, 2003 as U S President George W. Bush met with South African President Thabo Mbeki. Bush is on the second leg of a five-nation visit to Africa (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Other protests by members of the governing African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, trade unions and civil society groups are planned during the visit that began Tuesday night and ends Friday.
The growth of anti-American and anti-Bush sentiment in South Africa has been accelerated by recent criticism from former President Nelson Mandela. "For anybody, especially the leader of a super state, to act outside the United Nations is something that must be condemned by everybody," he had said last month.
The White House has declined to comment on his remarks.
In the weeks before the start of the Iraq war, Mandela called Bush arrogant and shortsighted. He also accused Bush of undermining the United Nations and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
"If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care for human beings," Mandela said in January.
Those comments by the widely popular leader and hero of the anti-apartheid struggle have a special resonance with South Africa's large Muslim population and with millions of poor blacks who still believe Western governments only want to loot the resources of Africa.
Besides resentment over the war in Iraq, South Africa's generally good relations with Washington also have been troubled by the U.S. decision to end military aid to 35 countries, including South Africa, that have not backed the U.S. position demanding immunity for Americans in the International Criminal Court.
When Bush meets with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria today, the two leaders are also expected to discuss AIDS, the war on terror, trade issues and to seek common ground in their attempts to deal with the political and economic crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe.
The U.S. African Trade and Opportunities Act, which gives preferential treatment to some African exports, has been popular in South Africa and gives Bush some positive leverage in the talks.
So does the Bush administration's promise to give $15 billion over three years to combat AIDS in Africa, the continent hardest hit by the pandemic.
But Bush and Mbeki have widely differing views on how to handle the crisis in Zimbabwe, where about half the population faces starvation and about 200 people have been killed in state-orchestrated political violence. Thousands of others have been beaten, jailed, raped or tortured for their views.
Washington and the European Union have imposed limited sanctions on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his ruling elite. Bush wants African leaders to put more pressure on Mugabe to restore democracy in the troubled nation by stepping down and holding new elections.
Mbeki has insisted he will not pressure Mugabe and prefers what he calls "quiet diplomacy."
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press