THE Pretoria government's pledge of moral support for the United States and its allies in the Gulf war has left South Africa's diverse population deeply divided. Most South Africans appear to be against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but many are equally opposed to the US war effort.
Both the African National Congress (ANC) and the right-wing Conservative Party advocate neutrality and urge continued diplomacy and negotiation to achieve peace.
Conservative leader Andries Treurnicht said it was wrong to take a pro-US stance while America imposed sanctions against South Africa.
ANC officials have condemned the US for advocating the settling of regional conflicts by peaceful means and then resorting to force against Iraq.
Openly pro-Saddam sentiment at ANC meetings has embarrassed the Congress leadership.
``That is the reality we have to face,'' said ANC spokesman Saki Macozoma. ``We have had many calls from angry Muslim supporters who see our stance as pro-US.''
The only political groups openly to back Saddam are the left-wing Pan Africanist Congress and the extreme right-wing Boerestaat Party (Afrikaner State Party), both citing anti-imperialist sentiments.
Protesters target US
Militant opposition to the war is led by some members of South Africa's 300,000-strong Muslim community who have been demonstrating outside the US Embassy and consulates nationwide.
About 4,000 protesters besieged the US Consulate in Johannesburg on Friday, carrying slogans like ``Save oil, burn Bush'' and ``One Bush, one bullet.''
Maulana Azir Aziz Desai, a Muslim leader, is trying to raise a 10,000-man army to help the Iraqi war effort.
Support for the US is most vocal amongst South Africa's 120,000-member Jewish community.
``It is not a religious war as Saddam is making out,'' said Harry Schwarz, South African ambassador-designate to Washington. ``Saddam has used poison gas on fellow Muslims. He has invaded a Muslim country and I think he has ambitions to create a super-state.''
Mr. Schwarz is the first Jewish South African and member of the liberal Democratic Party to receive a top ambassadorial posting from the ruling National Party.
John Barratt, director-general of the independent South African Institute of International Affairs, said Pretoria was correct to condemn the invasion of Kuwait and to support the United Nations resolution against the invasion.
``But we should be detached from the means of getting Saddam out of Kuwait and totally detached from the war,'' he said.
Western diplomats said there was more to Pretoria's supportive sentiments than met the eye.
When President Frederik de Klerk met President Bush in Washington last September he gave the US president a ``solemn undertaking'' to halt deliveries of South African-made G-5 howitzers to Iraq, a US diplomat said.
Military experts say the G-5 is superior to the nearest US equivalent, the M-114, which delivers the same caliber shells but has only half the range.
Arms deliveries cut back
Armscor, Pretoria's arms manufacturing wing, does not disclose details of sales but military experts said Iraq has bought between 100 and 200 G-5s. They form a key component of Iraq's 3,700 artillery arsenal and are its most accurate dispensers of chemical weapons.
De Klerk was the only head of state to telephone Mr. Bush to offer him moral support on Jan. 16, the day following the passing of the UN deadline condoning the use of force against Saddam.