Will we sell out SA’s soul?
SA-manufactured weapons and its technology might soon be helping to slaughter Yemenis
WE ARE very quick to condemn the Americans when a school bus or a market place in Yemen is bombed by Saudi Arabia using American weapons. But if South Africans don’t speak up and make their voices heard, soon it might be South African weapons of war that abet crimes against humanity, massacring civilians in Yemen.
On August 9, CNN revealed that it was US weapons made by Lockheed Martin that were used in the Saudi bombing of a Yemeni school bus, killing 44 children and wounding many more.
The horror of the atrocity was abhorred. But the school bus strike was only the latest in a consistent pattern of massacres and air strikes on civilian targets that include hospitals by the Saudi-led coalition.
Even the second largest US arms producer, Boeing, has been linked to the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Yemen. Fragments of Boeing bombs were allegedly found in the debris of a 2016 attack on a market place in Sana’a that killed 107 civilians, including 25 children.
Human Rights Watch has come out saying that coalition airstrikes had caused indiscriminate and disproportionate civilian deaths in Yemen, and called for the suspension of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
How is it exactly that the spokeswoman of our state-owned arms manufacturer Denel, Vuyelwa Qinga, responds to questions about possible arms deals with Saudi Arabia by saying: “Denel would welcome any country that looks at South Africa for the procurement of defence material.”
Ms Qinga, did you even know that your statement violates South Africa’s National Conventional Arms Control Act of 2003? Are you even aware that the act stipulates that “The Republic is a responsible member of the international community, and will not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism”?
Or maybe you are unaware that Saudi Arabia has been at war with Yemen since 2015 in which estimates put the number of killed and injured in the fighting at more than 16 000 civilians?
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that the Saudi-led coalition air attacks cause two thirds of the reported civilian deaths.
While Denel considers not only selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, it gets worse – Denel is considering taking a huge undisclosed amount of money from Saudi Arabia in return for our intellectual property on weapons technology.
Not only might South African-made weapons soon be killing civilians in Yemen, but our weapons technology may be sold to Saudi Arabia to enable the Saudis to manufacture their own weapons to be used on civilians in Yemen. I don’t know which is worse.
Saudi Arabian Military Industries chief executive Andrea Schwer has been boasting that the Saudis are expecting to conclude their first partnership deals with South African arms manufacturers by the end of the year.
Schwer has admitted that the Saudis want access to South African weapons technology. Schwer was quoted as having said, “Denel must commit to transfer its technology to Saudi Arabia and build up our local capability in manufacturing and engineering.”
The fact that Denel is even considering such a deal flies in the face of South Africa’s foreign policy under the Ramaphosa administration, which states that human rights and the promotion of peace in the world will be the cornerstone of our foreign policy.
Where is the National Conventional Arms Control Committee in all this? The NCACC was established according to the act to prevent precisely the abyss South Africa is about to fall into. The NCACC is a committee of seven ministers, presided over by the Minister in the Presidency, which is supposed to ensure that our weapons or weapons technology is not sold to countries that are involved in aggression.
Legally, South Africa, under its own law, is not allowed to sell arms or arms technology to Saudi Arabia.
The NCACC was fully functional under the first two democratic administrations, but we have to ask why has the NCACC not been meeting or functioning as the act envisioned?
A year ago the NCACC had asked Minister Jeff Radebe for a report on South Africa selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Radebe had promised to look into the matter but he has never reported back to the committee, and the committee never gave him a deadline by which to report back. It is time for the parliamentary committee to play its oversight role.
We know Denel needs a cash injection and that it wasn’t able to pay the full salaries of its senior staff last month, thanks to corruption under the Zuma administration.
But South Africa cannot sell its soul to the highest bidder at the expense of our values and principles. After all, Norway, Germany and Belgium have already suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Ebrahim is the group foreign editor at Independent Media