Opposition to a shipment of arms being offloaded in Durban and transported to Zimbabwe increased on Thursday when South Africa’s largest transport workers’ union announced that its members would not unload the ship.
South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) general secretary Randall Howard said: ”Satawu does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons.
”Our members employed at Durban Container Terminal will not unload this cargo; neither will any of our members in the truck driving sector move this cargo by road.”
He said the ship, the An Yue Jiang, should not dock in Durban and should return to China.
”South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time where there is a political dispute and a volatile situation between Zanu-PF and the MDC” following the March 29 elections, for which presidential vote results have not yet been released.
”The view of our members is that nobody should ask us to unload these weapons,” he said.
Satawu said it planned to engage support from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Defence secretary January Masilela said on Thursday that the scrutiny committee of the national conventional arms-control committee, which he chairs, had approved the conveyance permit on Monday already.
He said a inspection team from the arms-control committee would still have to ensure the cargo met the requirements of the permit before it could be transported to Zimbabwe. The permit would be endorsed by the committee when it meets next month.
Asked about the controversy surrounding the shipment, Masilela said: ”This is a normal transaction between two sovereign states. We are doing our legal part and we don’t have to interfere.”
In Cape Town, government communications head Themba Maseko said the country could not stop the shipment from getting to its destination as it had to be seen to be ”treading very carefully” in its relations with Zimbabwe, given the complexity of facilitating talks between the Movement for Democratic Change and Zanu-PF.
‘Lost the plot’
Chris de Vos, the secretary general for the United Transport and Allied Trade Union, said the union was ”not happy” about the arms shipment being transported through South Africa. ”We are going to request an urgent meeting with the management. We are aware that members are very uncomfortable with the situation,” he said.
He said that while no decision had been taken by the union on offloading the weapons and arms, the union leadership was not in favour of the weapons being transported.
Democratic Alliance defence spokesperson Rafeek Shah said the government’s approval to allow the arms to be shipped was ”the surest sign yet that government has completely lost the plot on the Zimbabwe issue”.
Shah said: ”The world’s astonishment at President [Thabo] Mbeki’s political defence of Robert Mugabe will likely turn into outright anger as we are now not only denying the existence of a crisis in Zimbabwe, but also actively facilitating the arming of an increasingly despotic and desperate regime.”
Kallie Kriel, AfriForum chief executive, said the organisation intended organising ”an extensive campaign of peaceful demonstrations in an effort to prevent a consignment of Chinese arms from being transported from Durban across South African territory to Zimbabwe”.
The South African Institute of Race Relations said on Thursday: ”It would be unconscionable for South Africa to allow an arms consignment through its borders en route to Zimbabwe.”
Spokesperson Frans Cronje said that if the shipment went ahead, ”South Africa’s culpability in the Zimbabwe crisis would then be without question”.
Noseweek editor Martin Welz said on Wednesday that ”the cargo ship was openly delivering a containment of arms for Zimbabwe”. He said he had copies of all the documents, including the bill of lading and a packing list.
The controversial cargo packed into 3 080 cases includes three million rounds of 7,62mm bullets (used with the AK-47 assault rifle) and 69 rocket-propelled grenades, as well as mortar bombs and tubes. The cargo is, according to the documentation, valued at R9,88-million.
Welz said: ”It’s very detailed and even has the phone numbers.”
Increased media interest around the shipment prompted both the South African Police Service and the South African Revenue Service (Sars) to send their top public relations officers to Durban to deal with media enquiries.
The police’s Captain Dennis Adriao said he would only comment on the ship once it had docked in port while Adrian Lackay said that the work of Sars ”is guided by the Sars Act and the confidentiality provisions in the Act”.
Lackay said: ”Sars Customs does not release cargo until the customs declaration has been processed and the requirements of the any other legislation have been adhered to. On the basis of the documents submitted by the shipping line — the company operating the vessel — Sars Customs decides whether there is a potential risk, whether cargo must be inspected and whether or not goods will be detained.
”These are standard customs procedures that apply daily to any cargo vessel entering a South African port of entry. At this time the vessel An Yue Jiang is at outer anchorage or off-port limits and therefore the cargo is not deemed to have been imported into South Africa yet,” he said. — Sapa