The government has failed to respond to questions posed by the United Nations relating to claims that South African mercenaries and security companies aided the Gaddafi regime during the Libyan uprising.
This has prompted accusations that South Africa is shirking its responsibility to crack down on illicit mercenary activity, as required by its own laws.
In January the three-member panel set up by the UN to probe human rights violations committed during the Libyan conflict, asked the government to provide clarity on the activity of South African mercenaries and security companies in that country.
“Allegations have been brought to the panel’s attention, from both news reports and other reliable sources, of the involvement of South African security firms, and South African nationals as mercenaries, in the attempts to extricate listed individuals, including Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family to other countries,” reads the panel’s report on their investigations.
As of yet the government has not responded.
While the panel did concede “no conclusive evidence has yet been found”, it cited various “difficulties” that are hindering its investigations.
These range from governments not responding to enquires posed by the panel, as well as the inability to travel to the northern part of Mali and Niger where it some mercenaries are reported to have been recruited.
After many enquiries to the departments of defence and international relations yielded no response, the Mail & Guardian was eventually told by cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi told that the government does not “participate in speculative allegations”.
“If anyone has tangible facts and evidence of any wrongdoing by any one, that matter must be reported to the appropriate authorities and the law must take its course,” Manyi added.
But though the government has dismissed the claims, an expert in the field of mercenary activity and the privatisation of military and security services at the Institute for Security Studies, Dr Sabelo Gumedze, says the matter is “of grave concern”.
“It is always difficult to ascertain the authenticity of allegations such as this but it is alarming that the government has not responded to this — albeit not that surprising,” he told the M&G.
According to Gumedze, the government’s lackadaisical response to the allegations is due to South Africa’s failure to properly implement the Prohibition of Mercenary Activity Act of 2006.
The Act aims to “prohibit mercenary activity” and “regulate the provision of assistance or service of a military or military-related nature in a country of armed conflict” by South African citizens or permanent residents.
“South Africa should actively investigate any allegations that its companies and nationals are involved in activity that destabilises foreign governments. But it would seem our approach thus far has been the opposite,” Gumedze.
Gumedze was referring to a visit to Equatorial Guinea by Jacob Zuma in 2009, which resulted in the release of self-confessed mercenary Nick du Toit after he was jailed for orchestrating an attempted coup in that country in 2004.
Gumedze’s claims are supported by a United Nations Human Rights Council report drafted in July 2011, stating the regulatory regime governing private military and security companies and individuals operating abroad faced “serious challenges”.
Accordingly, the report calls on South Africa to implement greater accountability mechanisms for individuals and companies found to be in violation of any legislation combating mercenary activity.
As of yet, the South African government has made no tangible efforts to comply with the recommendations.