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

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