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South Africa Denies Involvement in Coup

In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki’s government has rejected suggestions that it gave military support to alleged coup plotters to overthrow the Equatorial Guinea’s government in 2004. Simon Mann, who is currently on trial for masterminding the failed coup attempt, reportedly said South Africa played a supporting role in the aborted coup attempt. The government, however, dismissed Mann’s claims, saying South African laws prohibit the involvement of citizens in military activities outside its borders without due authorization. Pretoria added that it would not support the use of mercenaries to bring about fundamental political changes in any other African country, including Equatorial Guinea. From Johannesburg, political analyst Adams Habib tells reporter Peter Clottey that South Africa played a key role in alerting Zimbabwean authorities about the coup plot.

“It is a bit surprising. I mean it doesn’t sound logical at face value. It’s worth bearing in mind that South Africa has passed legislation that takes a very dim view on mercenary activity and coups in foreign countries. But more importantly that it’s worth bearing in mind that the South African government did play some role in exposing this coup attempt for instance when the mercenaries landed in Zimbabwe. For instance it was the South African government that tipped off the Zimbabwean regime that led to the immediate arrest of the individuals concerned,” Habib noted.

He said alleged ringleader Simon Mann is not being truthful in implicating South Africa in the failed coup plot.

“Clearly, that seems like Mann is pulling at straws to try and avoid a very severe sentence being imposed on him as part of this legal proceedings,” he said.

Habib said South Africa acted proactively to alleviate any possible tense relationship between South Africa and Equatorial Guinea over Mann’s statement.

“I think it is precisely because of the potential that it could create tension that we saw the foreign affairs department respond as quickly as it did. But I think it’s likely the big guns within the African Union and within the Equatorial Guinea would recognize that South Africa played some role in exposing this coup attempt. And therefore, that that fact alone should mitigate any severity in relations emerging or between the two countries,” Habib pointed out.

He said the complete rejection by South Africa of any involvement in the alleged failed coup attempt would help ease possible tensions between the two countries.

“I think absolutely, I think that is why they responded so quickly. I think more importantly, however, the South African government wants to retain whatever level of legitimacy that it has within the African continent. If it were implicated in a coup in Equatorial Guinea, I think it could really de-legitimize its credibility and a whole range of African engagements, including peace building in a number of areas. And precisely because of that threat, we saw the South African government respond as quickly and as firmly as it did,” he said.

Habib said leaders of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea could iron out any differences that might come up due to Mann’s pronouncement.

“I’m almost certain that this could be dealt with through a set of bilateral conversations that could happen between the foreign ministers and the presidents and the related counterparts. I suspect if such high level delegations were to take place and the visits take place then I think we could see the sign that relations have become a bit testy. That there are some circles in the Equatorial Guinea political elite that might believe some semblance of Simon Mann’s statement,” Habib pointed out.