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Sapa and M&G Online reporters, Sapa-AFP, I-Net Bridge18 Apr 2008 14:40
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille on Friday urged President Thabo Mbeki and national conventional arms-control committee (NCACC) chairperson Sydney Mufamadi to stop the transfer of arms aboard a ship, the An Yue Jiang, in Durban harbour to Zimbabwe.
The ship has been at anchor off the port of Durban since Monday.
The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that AB Logistics, state-owned Armscor’s transport arm, had been approached to handle the transport of the weapons to Zimbabwe, after several private logistics firms backed out of the transport contract because of the sensitive cargo and concerns about the ability of the Zimbabwean government to pay the transport costs.
This week, noseweek editor Martin Welz blew the whistle on the arms shipment, following the leaking to noseweek of the delivery documentation.
The documents, which the M&G obtained, show that six containers of weapons destined for the ZDF were shipped to Durban by the Chinese government-controlled conglomerate Poly Technologies for onward transport to Harare.
The consignment comprises three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1Â 500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3Â 000 mortar rounds together with mortar tubes.
Writing in her weekly newsletter on the DA website, Zille said the Cabinet this week, instead of moving swiftly to halt the transport of Chinese arms from Durban through South Africa to Zimbabwe, did nothing.
“This was because, in the words of [government communications head] Themba Maseko, we have to ‘tread very carefully’ in relations with our neighbour.
“Why? For fear of upsetting Robert Mugabe, who is no doubt preparing for the next phase of the intimidation campaign he is already waging against opposition supporters as he tries to force a presidential run-off election?” Zille asked.
Transporting the arms across South African territory to Zimbabwe is illegal under certain circumstances.
In terms of the National Conventional Arms Control Act, anyone who conveys, freights or transfers weapons is required to apply for a conveyance permit that can only be granted by the NCACC after consideration of how those weapons will be used.
The law clearly states the NCACC cannot allow the transfer of arms to governments that suppress human rights.
“It prohibits the conveyance of weapons to countries where the weapons are likely to escalate conflict and endanger peace.
Zimbabwe fits the bill on both counts,” Zille said.
It is encouraging that the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Satawu) is reportedly refusing to off-load or transport the weapons cargo,” she said.
“If neither Mufamadi nor Mbeki intervened, they could be complicit in state-sponsored terror of genocidal proportions,” Zille added.
She said it is worth remembering that it was a consignment of Chinese machetes that prefaced the killing of 800Â 000 people in Rwanda in 1994.
“The mind boggles when one considers the damage that could be done with the consignment of rocket launchers, grenades and semi-automatic weapons that are sitting in the Durban harbour,” Zille said.
No ‘scab labour’
Police officers should not be used as “scab labour” to offload the shipment of arms, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) said on Friday, following Satawu’s announcement that its members would not offload the ship.
Popcru spokesperson Benzi Soko said: “Satawu has very good reasons for offloading the ship. We understand their objection. Police cannot be used as scab labour.”
Asked what Popcru’s position would be if police were asked to offload the ship, Soko said: “We are of the view they should not offload this ship.” He said Popcru would consider taking legal action if its members were asked to offload the ship.
The United Transport and Allied Trade Union said on Friday that its members would also not help offload the ship.
Defence secretary January Masilela said on Thursday that the scrutiny committee of the NCACC, which he chairs, had approved the conveyance permit on Monday.
He said an inspection team from the NCACC would still have to ensure the cargo met the requirements of the permit before the cargo could be transported to Zimbabwe. The permit would be endorsed by the NCACC 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.”
However, by Friday an urgent court application was being brought to suspend the granting of the conveyance permit for the cargo, pending an application for a court order declaring the decision to grant the conveyance permit to be unlawful and invalid.
The application is being brought on behalf of two individuals, Bishop Rubin Phillip and Gerald Patrick Kearney, acting in the public interest, with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, said: “Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, with increasing accounts of widespread attacks on Zimbabwe’s civilian population by government forces, it is hard to imagine clearer circumstances in which South African authorities were obliged to refuse the grant of any conveyance permit.”
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