No more arms for rights abusers

SA gets eth­i­cal about weapons

Sunday Times - - Insight - By TERRY CRAW­FORD-BROWNE

● Just three months into SA’s tran­si­tion from apartheid to con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, Arm­scor was caught red-handed ex­port­ing AK-47s, G3 semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion to Ye­men. Then as now, Ye­men was torn apart in a vi­cious civil war, and sub­ject to a UN arms em­bargo.

A del­e­ga­tion of the South African Coun­cil of Churches, of which I was part, just hap­pened to be vis­it­ing Arm­scor’s head­quar­ters in Pre­to­ria on the very day that the news broke in Au­gust 1994. Arm­scor pub­licly in­sisted that the weapons were des­tined for Le­banon’s army, which the Le­banese con­sul in Jo­han­nes­burg rig­or­ously de­nied.

An­dre Buys, Arm­scor’s gen­eral man­ager, told us that be­cause we were a church group he would give us his “the­o­log­i­cal ra­tio­nale” for arms ex­ports. His bizarre ex­pla­na­tion was: “South Africa is a Chris­tian coun­try, and there­fore has a Chris­tian obli­ga­tion to sup­port other Chris­tian coun­tries when and if they are at­tacked. With the sup­port of the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, th­ese weapons were con­signed to Chris­tian mili­tias in Le­banon to de­fend them­selves against the Mus­lims.”

“So how,” I asked him, “could th­ese weapons end up in Ye­men which, most cer­tainly, is not a Chris­tian coun­try?” Buys’s limp re­sponse was that “Arm­scor could not be blamed for cor­rup­tion in the in­ter­na­tional arms trade”.

The de­ba­cle was a huge em­bar­rass­ment to pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s new gov­ern­ment. The Cameron com­mis­sion of in­quiry into Arm­scor was ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate, and also to pro­pose new arms ex­port reg­u­la­tions. I was asked by Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu to rep­re­sent the Angli­can Church.

The bish­ops had re­solved in synod that postaparth­eid SA should pro­hibit the ex­port of arms. They pro­posed that the as­sets and re­sources of Arm­scor and Denel (hived off in 1992 from Arm­scor) should be con­verted to peace­ful pur­poses.

Oliver Tambo had pre­sciently de­clared some years ear­lier that “Arm­scor is a Franken­stein mon­ster that can­not be re­formed, and must be de­stroyed”. The Cameron com­mis­sion’s re­port con­firmed that Arm­scor was not only man­age­ri­ally in­com­pe­tent, but also ir­re­deemably cor­rupt.

Re­gret­tably, Man­dela him­self in­ter­vened in the mat­ter, naively declar­ing that SA would hence­forth have a re­spon­si­ble arms in­dus­try, and that arms ex­ports would cre­ate jobs and earn for­eign ex­change. Min­is­ter Kader As­mal was de­tailed to draft the Na­tional Con­ven­tional Arms Con­trol Committee’s ra­tio­nale and guide­lines. The NCACC doc­u­ment de­clared that SA would not ex­port arms to coun­tries that abuse hu­man rights, to re­gions in con­flict or to coun­tries sub­ject to in­ter­na­tional arms em­bar­goes.

Sadly, the NCACC proved a farce right from in­cep­tion. By 1995 SA was again ex­port­ing weapons to Rwanda, which was still reel­ing from the 1994 geno­cide. Apartheid SA had been the third-largest sup­plier of weapons to Rwanda be­fore the geno­cide.

Al­ge­ria by 1998 was SA’s largest arms ex­port mar­ket. At the time Al­ge­ria was a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and the coun­try was be­ing torn apart by civil war.

Dur­ing par­lia­men­tary hear­ings in 2000, I chal­lenged the di­rec­tor of the NCACC to jus­tify South African arms ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia, given that coun­try’s grotesque hu­man rights history. Fred Marais’s re­sponse to me was: “Arabs don’t ob­ject to Saudi hu­man rights prac­tices. Who are we to im­pose our South African values on the Saudis?”

Fast for­ward now to 2019 when the new NCACC has blocked arms ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE). Os­ten­si­bly, both coun­tries refuse to com­ply with con­di­tions in­cluded on end user cer­tifi­cates re­gard­ing re-ex­port of weapons. End user cer­tifi­cates have never been worth the pa­per that they are writ­ten on. Nonethe­less, the re­sul­tant con­tro­versy re­gard­ing “in­spec­tion” now has much greater sig­nif­i­cance. About 85% of Rhein­metall Denel Mu­ni­tions (RDM) pro­duc­tion is ex­ported, Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE be­ing its main mar­kets.

As the largest Ger­man mu­ni­tions com­pany, Rhein­metall has an ap­palling history. It used slave labour in Ger­many dur­ing the Nazi era. It vi­o­lated the 1977 UN arms em­bargo against apartheid by ship­ping an en­tire am­mu­ni­tion plant to this coun­try.

Given its history, it is in­ex­pli­ca­ble that Rhein­metall was per­mit­ted to take a 51% con­trol­ling share­hold­ing in Denel Mu­ni­tions in 2008. The mi­nor­ity 49% is held by the state-owned Denel. Denel is in­sol­vent de­spite the tens of bil­lions of pub­lic money poured into it since 1994. RDM is now head­quar­tered at the old plant of Arm­scor’s Som­chem in the Ma­cas­sar area of Som­er­set West.

In ad­di­tion to ex­ports of mu­ni­tions, RDM de­signs and in­stalls en­tire am­mu­ni­tion fac­to­ries. For­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man jointly opened a new $240m (R3.5bn) Saudi Ara­bian Mil­i­tary In­dus­tries fac­tory at al-Kharj, south of Riyadh, in March 2016. This has taken on global ram­i­fi­ca­tions since the mur­der of Saudi jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi in 2018.

With the NCACC pre­vi­ously having closed its eyes to the im­pli­ca­tions of arms ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE, SA be­came com­plicit in the hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe in Ye­men per­pe­trated by the Saudi/UAE coali­tion. The Ye­meni port city of Hodei­dah was dev­as­tated in Au­gust 2018 by a se­ries of at­tacks by the coali­tion that tar­geted the har­bour and the nearby alThawra hospi­tal, where scores of pa­tients were killed. The Belling­cat mon­i­tor­ing agency iden­ti­fied the mor­tar shells used as having orig­i­nated with RDM.

RDM is ar­gu­ing that the NCACC’s block­age of ex­ports to Saudi Ara­bia and UAE will jeop­ar­dise jobs in Ma­cas­sar. An ex­plo­sion there in Septem­ber 2018 killed eight work­ers. The real­ity is that th­ese are poorly paid poverty jobs. Many die pre­ma­turely af­ter de­vel­op­ing cancer or heart dis­ease be­cause of in­gest­ing chem­i­cals whilst mak­ing mu­ni­tions to kill people in Ye­men and other coun­tries.

Craw­ford-Browne is the coun­try co-or­di­na­tor in SA for World Beyond War, a global move­ment to end all wars. In 2010, he took for­mer pres­i­dent Zuma to the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to force Zuma’s re­luc­tant ap­point­ment of the Ser­iti com­mis­sion of in­quiry into the arms deal scan­dal

Pic­ture: Se­bas­tiano To­mada/Getty Im­ages

Chil­dren at the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders Hospi­tal in Sadah. Am­mu­ni­tion man­u­fac­tured in SA has been iden­ti­fied as be­ing used in a hor­rific at­tack on a Ye­meni hospi­tal.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.