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East Rand firms on US critical list

WikiLeaks has released a secret diplomatic United States (US) embassy cable listing infrastructure points around the globe seen as critical to American interests, including two companies in South Africa’s East Rand area.

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The cable, with the subject “Request for information: critical foreign dependencies (critical infrastructure and key resources located abroad)”, lists hundreds of points around the world that the US considers fundamental to its national safety.

“In addition to a list of critical domestic [infrastructure and key resources], the NIPP [National Infrastructure Protection Plan] requires compilation and annual update of a comprehensive inventory… located outside US borders and whose loss could critically impact the public health, economic security, and/or national and homeland security of the United States,” reads the cable.

In South Africa the infrastructure points denote military equipment maker BAE Land Systems and gearbox producer David Brown Gear Industries, both in Benoni, as well as the chromite mines in North West.

BAE produces RG31 and RG33 mine-resistant, armour-protected vehicles, used for carrying soldiers through areas planted with landmines. They are also protected from roadside bombs and have special seats to prevent spinal injuries resulting from shock waves from explosions.

BAE has sold 1 300 of these vehicles to the US for use in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Why David Brown appears on the list is less clear. The sales director of the South African operation, Bill Gorman, said he was “gobsmacked” when he learned of the listing.

“We support the South African mining industry and Eskom,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

“We make gearboxes for our platinum and gold mines. We have supplied equipment via the US for other countries, but have only once exported directly to the States, for a copper mine seven years ago. I have no idea why we’re on the list.”

The chromite mines in the Rustenburg region export chrome ore around the world, which is, in turn, used in the manufacture of steel.

Elsewhere in Africa, the US lists cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cobalt is also used as an alloy in steel production. Manganese mines are listed as a key point in Gabon. In Guinea, mining operations producing bauxite are listed.

Bauxite is used in the production of aluminium used in military vehicles and aeroplanes.

Further north, a key strategic point in Djibouti is Bab al-Mendeb, a strait between Yemen and Eritrea.

‘Shipping lane is a critical supply node,’ reads the cable.

In Egypt, the import and export terminals of the Suez canal are listed in the cable, and in Morocco the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline in the Straits of Gibraltar.

This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest.

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