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South Africa in Zimbabwe Arms Controversy

  • Ntungamili Nkomo

South Africa has this year sold weapons worth R2.26 million to Zimbabwe despite an earlier self-censure commitment not to arm countries with “political complications".

A report released Monday by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee - a South African weapons trade oversight panel - said the arms were traded between April and June.

According to the report, Pretoria also supplied arms worth R590, 000 to Rwanda, blamed by the United Nations in June for actively supporting M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2008, South Africa and Mozambique blocked a Chinese ship from docking to offload weapons headed for Harare, fearing they would be used by Zanu PF to crack down on opposition political parties.

The ship was forced to return to Beijing with its load. Though Zimbabwe is not under any United Nations arms embargo, the U.S. and European Union have their own military hardware sanctions in place.

South Africa's Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, chairman of the Arms Control Committee, is quoted in the Beeld newspaper as having vowed in 2011 that Pretoria would not approve permits for sale of weapons to troubled nations, including Zimbabwe, Gabon, Syria and Yemen.

Human rights advocates and the main South African opposition Democratic Alliance party quickly seized on Monday's arms trade report and demanded answers.

"The fact is that there has been a de facto arms embargo on exporting conventional arms to Zimbabwe for nearly a decade," said DA lawmaker David Maynier.

South African government officials were not immediately available for comment.

President Robert Mugabe stands accused of using the police and the military to perpetrate violence against opponents of his Zanu PF party in general, and supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change in particular.

Political analyst Brilliant Mhlanga of the London-based Westminster University told VOA that while Zimbabwe reserves the right to purchase arms, it should not use them to suppress democracy.