SA arms flow to Zimbabwe

South Africa has been supplying Zimbabwe with weapons of war, including helicopters, revolvers and cartridges—despite the mounting human rights atrocities in that country.

The sales, some involving state arms company Armscor, have been quietly taking place for some years. When a Chinese freighter recently carried weapons destined for the Zimbabwean military and tried to dock in Durban, there was an international outcry.

Information at the Mail & Guardian‘s disposal points to a cosy relationship between the defence forces of both countries, as well as government-to-government arms transfers. This appears to conflict with President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation role between the ruling Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC, which demands neutrality.

The M&G can also reveal that private South African companies have sold arms to Zimbabwe and that these transfers must have been approved by government’s National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC).

The committee is chaired by Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi ­—who also happens to be Mbeki’s envoy in the Zimbabwean negotiations.

Mbeki has been mediating between the Zimbabwean parties since 2001 in an attempt to break the cycle of stolen elections and mounting violence.

Repression by the Zimbabwean state and its agents has seen tens of thousands of Zimbabweans harassed and displaced and scores killed.

The M&G can reveal that in recent years:

  • Armaments to the value of
    $237 401 (R3,3-million) were privately transferred from South Africa to Zimbabwe, according to 2004 and 2005 figures.
  • The South African defence department donated Dakota aircraft engines worth millions to Zimbabwe, while Armscor transferred spares to get Zimbabwean military choppers flying again.
  • Zimbabwean soldiers and flying instructors have been trained by the South African Defence Force and the South African Air Force.
  • Armscor was contracted to transport the weaponry destined for Zimbabwe and carried by the An Yue Jiang from the Durban port to Harare. The deal fell through when a court order stopped the ship from offloading and it sailed away.

    The arms transfers to Zimbabwe are reflected in official trade records between 2004 and 2005.

    Although these statistics concern sales by private companies in South Africa, they would still have had to be approved by Mufamadi’s NCACC.

    The trade records show that in 2004 South Africa exported about 2,6 tonnes of revolvers and/or pistols, another 2,5 tonnes of other firearms, between four and 7,5 tonnes of cartridges and what appear to be parts for military vehicles.

    These armaments were transferred in the run-up to and aftermath of Zimbabwe’s 2005 parliamentary polls, which were marked by violence.

    Altogether 18 entries in the trade records were specified from 2004 to 2005, most of them under the general category, ‘Arms, Ammunition, Parts and Accessories”. But some were specified under the category that includes bombs, grenades, torpedoes and missiles, while some transfers fell into the category of ‘revolvers and pistols”.

    In the NCACC’s annual reports from 2003 to 2006, which are not publicly released but of which the M&G has been given a detailed description, no mention is made of any of these transfers.

    The only mention of arms transfers to Zimbabwe between 2003 and 2006 is a ‘temporary export” called ‘Type A”—a classification used for spares or repairs—in 2005.

    The data also show the sale of arms to Zimbabwe by China, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates—but South Africa is by far the most frequent and largest supplier.

    In 2005 Armscor delivered spare parts for Alouette military helicopters to Zimbabwe to a value of
    $150 000 (about R1-million), an Armscor spokesperson confirmed. The Alouettes, previously grounded, were made airworthy.

    According to the annual report of the South African defence department, South Africa donated eight Dakota aircraft engines worth R9,5-million to the Zimbabwean Air Force in September 2005.

    The disclosure of the extent of South African arms transfers to Zimbabwe comes after the Chinese arms ship saga, when civil society stepped in to prevent the An Yue Jiang from offloading at Durban harbour.

    The issue is known to have caused conflict in the Cabinet, where President Mbeki and Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota insisted that the ship should be allowed to offload. As previously reported in the M&G, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and Transport Minister Jeff Radebe disagreed and tried to halt the delivery.

    Trucks from an Armscor affiliate were ready to take the weapons from Durban to Harare by road. But when the ship sailed away in contravention of the court order, the transaction was cancelled, said the Armscor spokesperson.

    Mufamadi later told Parliament that the permit for the transportation of the arms had been approved and that the South African government saw nothing wrong with facilitating delivery.

    This suggests a political conflict of interest for Mufamadi, who is also a key player in the Mbeki faciliation team brokering a deal between Zanu-PF and the MDC.

    SANDF annual reports make it clear the South African government has become closer to the Zimbabwean military in recent years.

    Several Zimbabwean soldiers and flying instructors have been trained by the SANDF since 2002. In 2006 a joint permanent commission of defence and security was formed to ensure close cooperation on defence issues between the two countries.

    In May 2006 the SANDF presented a course to, among others, Zimbabwean chaplains in the combating of HIV. In the 2006 annual report the deputy minister of defence, Mluleki George, said the South African Air Force was considering using Zimbabwean flying instructors to supplement its own trainers, who were in short supply. The South African Air Force participated in the ‘silver celebrations” of the Zimbabwean Air force in 2005.

    Cooperation between South Africa and Zimbabwe on the issue of border protection is also ongoing.

    South Africa recently voted in the United Nations General Assembly for a process to set up a global Arms Trade Treaty to prevent the irresponsible transfer of arms, an idea launched in a campaign by Amnesty International and 800 other NGOs in 2003.
    South Africa was recently allowed into the multilateral Wassenaar Arrangement, subscribed to by a number of countries, to contribute to regional and international security and stability by promoting transparency and greater responsibility in transfers of conventional arms and dual-use goods and technologies.

    The text of the arrangement reads: ‘Participating states seek, through their national policies, to ensure that transfers of these items do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities which undermine these goals.”

    According to Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, states which render assistance to states that use state machinery against some sections of their society are held responsible under international law. ‘Knowing what the situation is like in Zimbabwe means a government that gives them assistance becomes complicit.”

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