21 June 2005

South Africa's commissioner not attending International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting

South Africa is set to be severely embarrassed at the crucial International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting which opens in South Korea on Monday by the absence of vice-chairperson Horst Kleinschmidt.

The blame is being laid squarely at the door of the department of environmental affairs and tourism, of which he was until recently deputy director-general and head of its marine and coastal management section.

He resigned suddenly this year.

Veteran whale conservationist Nan Rice has even suggested that Kleinschmidt, who until a week ago was all set to attend the annual meeting, was effectively blocked by "inside politicking" in the department, although others say indecision is to blame.

The IWC is on the rack, being pulled in opposite directions by the pro-whaling nations led by Japan, and the anti-whaling lobby backed by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Africa.

This morning it appeared Japan had for the first time garnered enough support from the changing IWC membership to gain a slim majority.

Although this will be insufficient to approve the resumption of commercial whaling, which requires a 75 percent majority vote, it will have a profound psychological effect and could lead to significantly increased "scientific" whaling.

Kleinschmidt, who was to have been South Africa's commissioner at the meeting and holds the IWC's second most senior position, is a seasoned negotiator in this forum.

He has strongly pushed South Africa's non-lethal whaling line in recent years, stressing the lucrative tourism option of whale-watching.

He was expected to have played a significant role in countering the pro-whaling arguments, particularly from Denmark which holds the IWC chair.

Under normal circumstances, Kleinschmidt would assume the chairmanship next year.

Although another senior official in the department, marine scientist Hermann Oosthuizen, and a foreign affairs official were also scheduled to attend, Kleinschmidt was to have been South Africa's official representative, or commissioner.

But he confirmed on Friday that he would no longer be going. The official line from the department is that Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk approved Kleinschmidt's travel plans, but "local difficulties" like Kleinschmidt getting flu prevented him from going.

On Sunday, department spokesperspon J P Louw could not elaborate on these difficulties, nor could he say when Van Schalkwyk had approved Kleinschmidt's travel plans.

However, Louw said Kleinschmidt had confirmed all South Africa's rights and obligations at the meeting with Oosthuizen, and that its non-lethal whaling line remained unchanged.

Kleinschmidt himself declined to comment, other than to say that Oosthuizen "knows the game" and had been preparing South Africa's position on all the issues.

"So technically, South Africa will stick to its guns," he said.

Kleinschmidt also said that, because of his position as vice-chairman, he still considered himself entitled to speak on IWC issues and would be following the meeting closely.

He also said he would discuss the issue of his succession as IWC chairman with Van Schalkwyk afterwards.

Rice, who heads the Dolphin Action Group (incorporating Save the Whales), said she had learned of the move "with some surprise and disappointment".

"While not denigrating his replacement Hermann Oosthuizen, Kleinschmidt has been an excellent commissioner who was lauded by many anti-whaling countries and also international non-government organisations," Rice said.

"He would naturally have become chairman of the IWC in due course, a great honour for South Africa."

The department had not explained the "sudden change" for the "absolutely crucial" meeting.

"Neither the media nor my organisation was informed. Frankly, this smacks of inside politicking, which is not what saving whales is all about.

"Kleinschmidt's withdrawal from the commission is a great loss to the anti-whaling lobby and also to the whales."

Source: www.iol.co.za


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