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Rethinking Nuclear Weapons
An Interview with Gina van Schalkwyk
Gina van Schalkwyk is the SADC Researcher at the
South African Institute of International Affairs. In April 2003
she will receive her MA International Studies (Cum Laude) from the
University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. She completed her undergraduate
studies at the University of Pretoria, also in South Africa. During
her time at university, Gina worked as a research assistant and
Gina has been involved with International Student/Young Pugwash
(ISYP) since attending the 1999 Pugwash Conference on Science and
World Affairs that was held in Rustenburg, South Africa. At the
Cambridge Conference the following year, Gina was elected to the
Interim Committee of ISYP as African Representative. In September
2001 that position was formalized and Gina took up her position
in the ISYP Board. She served in this capacity until her formal
resignation from the Board in April 2002. During her time on the
Board, Gina edited the monthly (later bi-monthly) ISYP Newsletter,
contributed to the drafting of some of ISYP's core documents, and
assisted in the planning of some ISYP projects. Her current involvement
revolves around the ISYP Journal Project, which she heads up.
What is the general perception of nuclear weapons in South
To be honest, I don't think there is much of a perception. It is
pretty much 'some-one else's problem'. Where there is awareness,
I believe that many misperceptions exist. People do not understand
the 'logic' of nuclear weapons and warfare. People also do not,
at all, distinguish between nuclear weapons and nuclear technology/energy.
All that is nuclear, is bad and very dangerous.
Are students aware of the history and/or perceptions of
nuclear weapons in other regions of Africa?
No, definitely not on a large scale. There may be a few individuals
who know something, but it (study of nuclear issues) does not even
form part of all undergraduate political science curricula in South
Africa, and very little, if any, at universities in other African
What programs are available to the public to promote awareness
of nuclear weapons issues, specifically to the youth? In South Africa,
I don't know of ANY programs in the rest of Africa - asked a friend
who worked closely with these issues through the South African Department
of Foreign Affairs, and she also doesn't know of anything. In South
Africa, there are no programs to promote awareness of nuclear WEAPONS
issues that I am aware of. There are some programs that involve
some school day trips and awareness campaigns around other uses
of nuclear TECHNOLOGY. These only started after 1995 and are mostly
limited to two areas in South Africa. They also involve mostly upper-
to middle-class schools and areas that have very limited impact.
Who do you believe is responsible for the education about
nuclear weapons in African countries?
Difficult question....With African governments so overburdened and
education systems unable to cope with even the most basic of tasks,
further burdening them with this kind of responsibility seems unrealistic.
Tertiary education is available to very few in Africa, so assigning
them with this responsibility will not translate into broad-based
public awareness of these issues. Because it is such a non-threat
in Africa, nuclear awareness has no popular currency and the 'trickle-down'
or 'dissemination' effects of educating a few will be minimal. To
assign the task to outside agencies creates additional problems.
In my experience, many of the misperceptions about nuclear issues,
and in particular any perceived nuclear threat, are a legacy of
the Cold War era and what could only be termed propagandistic materials
and rumors distributed by the US and Russia. Some of the questions
to consider are: How to educate without propagating? How to ensure
a necessary level of objectivity? What would the purpose of nuclear
education in Africa be? What do Africans need to know about nuclear
weapons? Would increasing the knowledge about nuclear issues/weapons
in Africa not perhaps rather have the unintended opposite effect
of actually spurring interest - in the wrong way?
Are there any unique cultural myths about nuclear weapons
in South Africa?
Where there is any knowledge or awareness of nuclear weapons at
all, the belief is that they will destroy literally EVERYTHING -
i.e. are EXTREMELYDANGEROUS. Nothing will remain standing after
a nuclear weapon was dropped/detonated, and there could be no life
on that surface for a considerable time afterwards. People still
believe that bunkers could provide protection against all kinds
of calamities, but they have no idea of the realities of actually
planning to live in a bunker for a prolonged period, and no one
actually has a bunker to go and hide in. Too many movies..... But
to be honest, I don't think many people even know what nuclear weapons
are, never mind what they are about. To most people - they are foreign,
and someone else's problem.
What is South Africa's government's stance on nuclear weapons?
Does the government deem nuclear weapons a required
component of national security?
To answer the second question first ...NO. The South African government
is very proud of its steps to denuclearise and are active proponents
of non-proliferation and denuclearisation. We have a very firm stance
on nuclear weapons and don't believe that anyone needs nuclear weapons
to ensure their safety and security. Nuclear weapons are inhumane
and create false and unsustainable power relations between states.
We actively promote denuclearisation in a number of forums, we are
a signatory to all the relevant agreements and treaties to limit
nuclearisation and testing of weapons and also regulates the acquisition
of weapons materials. South Africa also, in 1995, adopted the "Act
on the Prohibition of Weapons of Mass Destruction" that clearly
spells out the South African position on such weapons and formalizes
internal arrangements and regulations with regard to nuclear and
other weapons of mass destruction. We've also taken a leading role
in the NPT and Review Conferences as well as the CTBT process.
Are there any regional collaborative efforts regarding the
proliferation/nonproliferation of nuclear weapons?
Yes, the "Pelindaba Treaty", known before 1995 as the
"Treaty on the Denuclearisation of Africa" is signed by
all African states. After 1995 South Africa acceded to this treaty,
threw all its weight behind promoting it, and undertook to establish
a secretariat to monitor compliance with the treaty at Pelindaba
in South Africa (hence the name-change).
What role do you think the United Nations should play in
the regulation of nuclear weapons in Africa? around the world?
It already plays a very important role and should play an increasingly
important role through its support to the IAEA and its impartiality
as a monitoring body. In Africa, it can play an important role in
providing human and other security in a broader sense through also
stimulating development. By creating more stable socioeconomic and
political conditions on the continent, the most important aspect
of regulation - i.e. creating an environment where regulating is
actually possible - is addressed. At present the conundrum that
is Africa is so unstable and unpredictable that, although governments
officially denounce nuclear weapons and the use thereof, the controls
are so frail and unstable that you never know what will happen tomorrow,
or who, within an African country, could actually be pursuing the
development of smaller tactical, or larger, nuclear capabilities
What do you think the role of developed/industrialized nations
should be in regulating nuclear weapons in Africa?
They should actively take responsibility for ensuring that nuclear
materials are not exported to African countries through strictly
complying with the requirements, and their responsibilities, with
regard to the two Control Regimes. They should also assist African
countries in controlling imports from other, so-called nuclear rogues
states such as Pakistan, India and North Korea. Once again, by creating
generally more stable conditions in Africa, developed nations can
help African countries to overcome one of the most dangerous 'loopholes'
- bribery & corruption.