China Conducts Business in Africa, Congo Elections

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Farai Chideya talks with NPR Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault about the latest news on the continent. This week, they discuss the death of former South Africa President P.W. Botha, as well as Africa's economic ties to China and an update on the elections in Congo.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

A vast nation meets a huge continent for business. We're talking China and Africa collaborating on controversial deals. And in South Africa, reflections on the passing of an apartheid Arab president: P. W. Botha.

With this news and more, we've got NPR special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Welcome, Charlayne.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: I want to take a look at the former South African president, P. W. Botha. He passed away last Tuesday but Nelson Mandela, who in some ways you would expect the last person to be a fan of Botha's, said that Botha had made some strides towards a multiracial democracy. Was this just diplomacy or do you think that he actually felt that way?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, you know, I don't think it's so surprising coming from Nelson Mandela, who has always taken the high road, just as the government this past week took the high road. They offered a state funeral, which the family declined, but they did, you know, in accordance with past practice that presidents get state funerals.

So the government took the high road, Nelson Mandela took the high road. He was probably talking about when Botha legalized interracial marriage. He created a third party within the Cabinet allowing colored representatives. Because as you know, South Africa was divided along color lines - white, black, colored.

But, you know, all of those things amounted to tinkering around the edges. P.W. Botha went to his grave refusing to acknowledge black majority rule. I mean he fought it every step of the way, more often than not violently. He tortured his state security bureau, which reported to him; was sort of a government unto itself. It tortured and murdered opponents at will in some of the most egregious ways.

And yet when he had an opportunity to come before the nation and apologize during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he refused. In fact, I was there during those days when he just refused and finally had to go to court. Was taken to court and even then was defiant right up to the last. And as they were saying in South Africa this week, so many of the secrets, the state secrets of how they tortured and went after opponents of apartheid, all those papers are missing.

So P.W. Botha took some of the apartheid era's worst secrets to his grave. One may never know because many of those papers may have been destroyed or shredded or who knows where they are. But I think the darkest moments of South Africa history were when P.W. Botha was president. And I think the majority of South Africans are not unhappy to see him going on to the great beyond to possibly meet his judgment there, because it wasn't made on earth.

CHIDEYA: That is definitely tough stuff. Looking ahead, I want to turn to a summit that just closed out in China. There was a China-Africa summit, and the Chinese President Hu Jintao has pledged billions of dollars in aid and loan packages to Africa. How did this meeting come about?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, the Chinese are hoping to cement their ties with Africa not necessarily out of the goodness of their heart, but, you know, because Africa has something that this growing power needs. It needs raw materials to feed its industrial boom. Right now Africa supplies China with 30 percent of its oil needs. There are countries in Africa that provide phosphates - Morocco - copper and cobalt from Congo and Zambia, iron ore and platinum from South Africa, Cameroon, Gabon.

All of these countries have contributed to China's trade with Africa last year to about $40 billion. So China is doing good things for the continent. For example, like this whole idea of getting rid of some of the bilateral debt and setting up a fund to help investments in South Africa.

And China is characterizing it as a win-win. But many of the human rights organizations - and I think even some of these countries like South Africa, although they haven't said it publicly; I've heard murmurings - they're very uneasy about these moves of China.

CHIDEYA: Finally, I want to turn to the Congo, where the president is leading his rival in a runoff election. Now the thing is, first of all, it's taking a long time to count these ballots. But what were the issues on the table with this and are we surprised about the initial results?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, I think we have to be very careful. You know, because Congo is a very large country - large as Western Europe - and there may be some surprises, at least that's what the observers have told me who have been there. And I think the concern now - you know, it is taking a long time, but, you know, some of those polling places are so far away it takes ten - you know, many of them are in the interior. Some of them it takes ten days to get there.

So they're trying to speed up the process so they can end the uncertainty and lower the chances for either a coup or chaos in favor of calm. What people have told me, observers from the Carter Center and others, have said that there are no incentives for war now. And to make sure of that, the African Group sent four former African presidents to talk with Bemba and Kabila to tell them that there's no good thing that could come out of having their troops go into the streets as they did in the first round of elections. You know, there was a lot of violence.

So everybody now is sort of focused on getting these guys to commit to calm no matter the result, and also to get them to talk to their troops. Because, you know, if they unleash violence, there's no telling where it would stop.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne, thanks a lot.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who reports on issues from around the continent on our Africa Update.

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