Philippe Naughton, and Jane Macartney / Times Online – 2008-04-19 00:57:20
REIJING (April 18, 2008) — South African dockers are refusing to unload a Chinese cargo ship carrying 77 tonnes of small arms destined for Zimbabwe.
The arms, including three million rounds of ammunition suitable for AK47s and 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, were ordered by the Zimbabwean military at the time of the March 29 election — which Britain and other Western powers have accused Robert Mugabe of trying to rig.
The arms arrived at Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday aboard the Chinese-owned An Yue Jiang and must be taken by road to landlocked Zimbabwe, where the Government has been accused of arming rural militias before a possible run-off vote for the presidency. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has even accused Mr Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) of preparing for a “war” against the people.
January Masilela, the South African Defence Secretary, said yesterday that the shipment had been approved this week by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), which he chairs. “This is a normal transaction between two sovereign states and we don’t have to interfere,” he said.
But opposition parties slammed the decision to grant the transit permit and the country’s main transport union said that its members would refuse to unload the cargo.
“We do not believe it will be in the interest of the Zimbabwean people in general if South Africa is seen to be a conduit of arms and ammunition into Zimbabwe at a time when the situation could be described as quite volatile,” said Randall Howard, a spokesman for the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU).
“As far as we are concerned the containers will not be offloaded”.
Rafeek Shah, defence spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, the main South African opposition party, added: “The world’s astonishment at President Mbeki’s political defence of Robert Mugabe will likely turn into outright anger as we are now not only denying the existence of a crisis in Zimbabwe, but also actively facilitating the arming of an increasingly despotic and desperate regime.”
AfriForum, a regional business lobby group, has said that it would organise protests along the shipment’s route. The South African Institute of Race Relations said that if the shipment goes ahead, “South Africa’s culpability in the Zimbabwe crisis would then be without question.”
Meanwhile, the South African Government’s decision to allow transit of the shipment was the subject of an urgent legal challenge at the Durban High Court.
Nicole Fritz, head of the Southern African Litigation Centre, told Times Online that under the 2002 National Convention on Arms Control, which the NCACC monitors, the permit should not have been granted. That law, she said, specifically prohibits the shipment of arms that will “contribute to internal repression”.
In addition, allowing the arms shipment would violate South Africa’s international commitments under a range of agreements including the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement.
“This is a very clear example of a situation in which the committee will be obliged to review a permit,” she said, predicting that the High Court would order a stay on the shipment.
There have been persistent reports about Chinese arms sales to Zimbabwe, although the details are hard to pin down.
Zimbabwe announced in 2006 that it had bought six fighter jets from China, adding to a fleet of six it bought the previous year in a deal believed to be based on barter — with China obtaining precious mineral raw materials needed in its economic boom.
Zimbabwean officials said that the aircraft deal also included the purchase of 100 military vehicles from China to replace existing items that were no longer operational since Western sanctions halted imports of spare parts and maintenance equipment.
China’s sales of military hardware are believed to have amounted to more than US$200 million in recent years. There have also been reports that the Chinese have sold water cannons and mobile phone bugging equipment to the security forces in Harare — although it is not clear whether or not those sales were instigated by companies operating outside the control of central government.
Mr Howard, the SATAWU spokesman, said that the An Jue Yiang was carrying 36 containers, 30 of which were equipment for the mining industry in South Africa and Botswana.
“The balance is earmarked for Zimbabwe, four of which have arms and ammunition in them and the other two military aircraft ejector seats,” he said.
Have Your Say
• I too applaud the SA dockers. The govn’t there is abviously corrupt. But unfortunately, the bloodshed may be unstoppable.
— John Squires, Nanaimo, BC,
• Oh well, I guess this is an unnecessary side effect of China’s “peaceful rise” foreign policy. Under that, they make friends and trade with everyone and anyone!
— Alasdair, London,
• In response to the question from Michael in Pueblo, it is easier logistically to transport goods from Durban to Zimbabwe via Johannesburg than from Maputo to Zimbabwe. As to the precise reason to dock in Durban rather than Maputo you will have to ask the governments of China or Zimbabwe or failing that the port authorities of Mozambique.
— Rob Hicks, Johannesburg, South Africa
• My western friends,
It will NEVER a willing of we ordinary Chinese people to ship weapons to a country, which is facing civil war!!!
But we can not vote to prevent this.
What I can do is to pray for the Zimbabwe sisters and brothers. God bless them.
UN should take its responsibility.
– A Chinese student in UK college
• Perhaps we ought to disinvest in South Africa?
— Roger, Ipswich,
• China and communist chinese have brought slaughtering and genocides to:
Cambodia by using Kmer Rouges
Dafur by using Zimbabwe and other African nations!
The world must boycott china in all aspects from stopping buying Made in China products to stopping sell any natural resources to China!
— tom, Bikini Atoll,
• Bob, I’m sure that made you feel intelligent but its a plain ridiculous response. Firstly stop living in a deconstructionist landscape where since all arms trades are bad they are all as bad as each other. Sweden selling arms to Switzerland is hardly likely to have the same direct repurcussions as giving a cornered desperate despot an extra lifeline to hold back the will of his people. Secondly the dockers have no obligations at all, if their employers felt it necessary it could sack them but that will hopefully not happen so all they have done is take a calculated risk based on the good of their humanity.
Finally while the arms trade is fantastically huge even stopping it entirely would not come close to resulting in the “developed world’s financial meltdown”. And Lee, Bath, don’t worry plenty of people in the UK protest our own arms exports — would be novel to see some care here.
— DW, Beijing, China
• Go on the dockers! The world salutes you!
— Kate, London,
• Where are all the guys with names like “Smith” and “Brown” and “Robinson” who normally post here in broken English insisting that China can do no wrong?
— jon livesey, Sunnyvale, CA/US
• i am very proud of my union brothers in South Africa!!! Do not allow this dictator to murrder his own people anymore! My hat is off to you all!!
— Bill Shaw, Pottsville Pennsylvania, USA
• yeah, i totally support their right action, otherwise, there will be a second darfur
— cty, zhejiang, china
• And yet the United States trades with China for trinkets and toys, while condemning the sale of arms. Am I missing something here?
— bj, micwest city, oklahoma
Trade Unionism at its best!
— john merrell, London,
• Oh well, I guess this is the side effect of China’s “peaceful rise” foreign policy, where they will make friends and trade with everyone and anyone.
— Alasdair, London,
• If we look closely at China they are surrepticiously trying to break down global peace.
I really have to believe that its to do with their (future) outward march (Revelation 9:16 and 16:12/ the kings of the east).
They already want Australia to be NEW SOUTH CHINA.
— G. Gibson, Sydney, Australia
• SH, I couldn’t agree more. Our leaders refuse to lead, so it is left to the dockworkers. Hip, hip, hooray, for the SA dockworkers!
— Mark, Chicago, USA / IL
• Governments can do nothing without the consent (passive or active) and complicity of the governed. I applaud the principled and moral stand of the dock workers to refuse complicity in the crimes of Mugabe. I hope that the police and army are equally moral and principled though that may be a rather too much to hope for.
— Stephen Burgoyne Coulson, Vancouver, BC Canada
• Boycott the games.
— William D H Carey, Schoten 2900, Belgium
• How refreshing to learn that someone in Africa has a conscience. When those elected finally take office in Zimbabwe they will know who their friends are.
— David, Oxford,
• Good on them! Now if only we had a bit more backbone…
— Mary Allen, London, England
• Err, what about the arms our government seems to be selling?
— Farrukh, Woking, UK
• Surely this arms trade is no different to any other arms trade? Workers must realise where their wages come from and get on with unloading and trucking a legal cargo. The alternative of course would be to ban global weapons sales and watch most of the developed world sink further into financial meltdown and what good would that do for anyone?
— Bob, London, England
• Good for the dockers.
Pity that integrity principle does not extend into the South African government.
— Luis, London, UK
• Well done! If NATO ain’t doing it, it’ll have to be done little bits at the time.
— M.R., Stockport,
• Congratulations to the dockworkers.
— John , Chicago,
• The first thing South Africans have ever done for Zimbabwe since Mugabe became demented. However, the Chinese will simply take its ship to Maputo and offload its arms there.
— Gerard, Johannesburg, South Africa
• I have only one word I wish to comment with here — heroes.
— Richard Thrippleton, Cambridge,
• doing the right thing. the humane thing. The world should take note
— bonz, egham,
• At last finally someone has some backbone — dockers of Durban.
— dewsbry, london, uk
• Just shows that the ANC and it’s cronies are now just as corrupt as Mugabi — they act for their own interest rather than the interests of the people
— Paul Singh, London, UK
• The shipment should be withheld until the real Government of Zimbabwe is announced. It was the Zimbabawe’s government which ordered the weapons, but whats in doubt is, who is actually the Government.
— Martin L, Stockport,
• Another example of the Unions making a stand against tyranny. Well done comrades, keep the red flag flying.
— John, London,
• Have we as a nation learned nothing? We have been liberated from the horrors of apartheid, but it seems now we are aiding an evil despot who is treating his people even worse then our former government treated us!
— Roni Zulu , JHB, RSA
• Today, as a resident of South Africa, and counting myself as being part of this “ranibow nation” i __Salute__ those that are at the grass-roots standing for what is RIGHT.
This is South Africa at its BEST…. it gives me hope and i rejoice in those that are standing up to be counted.
— Kambiz Shahri, Langebaan, South Africa
• See. The Times is trying to link Zim with China now. Again, another biased, and simply untrue story, unfortunately.
— Michael H., London, UK
• US is the biggest exporter of warpons
you guys so quick to forget your BAE scandal
China is not even in the top five. boycott US and the UK first.
— Lee, Bath,
• I hope the dock workers don’t suffer as a result of their brave decision. President Mbeki is turning into the Neville Chamberlain of Southern Africa. If the line isn’t drawn now, then the message to Mugabe is that any abuse will be tolerated.
— Emma, Cambridge, UK
• This has nothing to do with the Government of SA, this is dockers doing the right thing. Time and time again, in geopolitics, it is dockers who have made the right decisions. Rule #1, Don’t mess with dockers!
— Nick Ingram, Gloucester, UK
— Paul Francis, Brisbane, Australia
• Mugabe has been messing with the Zim trade unions for sometime and has blocked SA unions from coming in to observe.
I guess this is one way the unions can hit back and make their mark. Whether it is purely altruistic or politically motivated does not really matter. The net result is that someone outside of Zimbabwe has finally done something that makes a difference. Hopefully this may begin something bigger.
— Peter, London,
• Durban, the world is watching & applauding you.
(More than can be said for your President).
Don’t let that ship sail north.
— Pieter, Mansfield, Canada
• Well done the dockers. If those 6 containers should accidently fall into the sea ….
— Jane, Chrictchurch,
• the South African government is no better than mafia gun runners… The chinese have lots al lcredabillity for their olympics.. Now the EU countries should boycott the games
— mark day, chicago/london,
• It’s amazing to see just how disconnected the South African leaders are from their people on this issue. There is no question the dockers are doing the right thing. I applaud them for their actions.
— Robert Laundon, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
• I Second that — Sink that ship!
I take back everything I’ve ever said about COSATU. Every single damn thing. Very well done.
— jane, Durban, South Africa
• @Rob Hicks of Johannesburg: If I’m reading my world map correctly, Maputo is closer to Zimbabwe than Johannesburg is. If you’re right about the ship just going up there after refusal at Durban, then the question has to be asked: Why didn’t they go to Maputo to begin with?
Depending on the answer to that question, and your government’s decision, the Chinese may not be able to rescue Mugabe from his troubles.
— Michael, Pueblo, Colorado, US
• Sink that ship!!
— Mandaue Mactan, Mandaue City, Philippines
• it is nice to see someone stand up against big money in the face of what is right. please let the world take a cue from these people
— joon, santa fe, nm
• I say the SA dockers are to be congratulated for making a stand! These weapons would have been used by African people to kill African people, to me this makes no sense.
— Bob, Belfast, N. Ireland
• At last people are standing up for Zimbabwe…this is the spirit that the rest of the world and the South African president need to show Zimbabweans. They are living in fear and in dire poverty.
— KS, Limbe, Malawi
• This is one dock workers union I am very proud of! Refusing to unload weapons that will kill thousands and keep a dictator in power. Hurrah for you gentlemen!
— Mandaue Mactan, Mandaue City, Philippines
• Sink that ship!!!!
— Mandaue Mactan, Mandaue City, Philippines
• Double standard all the time. I am alraedy fed up with it.
— James, San Jose, US
• You need to live in South Africa to appreciate how corrupt & totally inefficent the SA goverment is. People are leaving here in their droves as the future for Southern Africa is grim. Even if Mbeki steps down, the next leader Zuma is even more daunting.
— Gaynor, Durban, South Africa
I simply cannot understand President Mbeki’s stance on Zimbabwe at all. Does he want a blood bath over there?
I applaud these South African dockers. It seems that it needs the ordinary ‘man in the street’ to stand up for what is right.
— SH, London, UK
Good news but there is always the possibility that the ship will dock just up the coast in Maputo and from there the arms can go by road through Mozambique to Zimbabwe so avoiding South Africa all together. There has been instances of this before. Better for the ship to be sunk in international waters!
— Rob Hicks, Johannesburg, South Africa
• A relief that someone has the guts to take a stand against Mugabe — three cheers for the dockers. The moral corruption of the SA government is breathtaking and there should be a trade boycott on this country until Mbeki comes to his senses, if he has any.
— michael clarke, london, uk
• So what. still nowhere as close to how much america exports to fuel civil wars all over the world
— David, Weymouth, Dorset
• Godd for them!
Standing in the way of a shipment that will clearly be used against the people of Zimbabwe is, IMO, a grand humanitarian act.
Nice to know that the people of RSA are more politically aware than their President.
— Hannah, Oxford, UK
• Hooray for the SA unions! At least they have more sense than their government. Ordinary South Africans are speaking up for ordinary Zimbabweans.
— Charlotte, Heidelberh, Germany
• Decent and well intended people have to take matters into their own hands when their governments fail to act properly. The shipworkers union have the moral high ground above the South African Government. The ANC should take much better charge of this situation when their own President and Ministers are behaving complicitly with the Mugabe regime.
South Africa could settle the Zimbabwe disaster at a stroke if it chose to do so. What has happened to you people in recent years?
— Colin , Carmarthen, UK
• Top stuff!!
A rare display of scruples in Africa. My respect for South Africans rises.
— Phill, Wirral, England
• Will stoney-faced young ‘flame guardians’ dressed in blue and white tracksuits escort the shipment on its way to Harare?
China’s policy for Africa, eh?
— Melina Jackson, Leicester, UK
• Well done the dockers. They put our dissembling ‘leaders’ to shame.
— Mark, London,
• How refreshing to hear Times readers congratulating a Union and the dockers.
— Liam, Glasgow, UK
• heroic action by the unions (not something i normally say)….someone has finally done the moral thing here.
— Vaseem , London, UK
• Chinese weapons for the Mugabe Regime. Is this all part of the Peace and Harmony camapaign.
— Colin , Carmarthen, UK
• At least the South African workers have the guts to do what Mbeki and his cronies won’t.
— David Leslie, Perth, Scotland
• Stay out of it China! What a disgrace.
This is a crucial time for Africa and the world. People in Zimbabwe are being tortured, raped and beaten.
Africa must stand up for its own people. The silence of Zimbabwe’s neighbors show they are cronies who would rather see people die than speak out and put pressure on another black leader. Shameful — what kind of people are these?
— Adelaide, London, England
• Well done to those who have the guts to stand up to Mugabe and shame on the South African government for it’s complicity and lack of backbone.
— Lee, London,
• Real courage, the kind of strength that changes the world. We should support them in any way we can.
— Ed Freshwater, Aberdeen,
• What a relief: for once it’s not the sly opportunism of the British which is arming a despot to the teeth. It’s the Chinese this time!
For once we’re in the clear. Let’s hope it wasn’t a British arms dealer who arranged the sale to begin with. Ah, civilisation!
— iain carstairs, bedford, uk
• I have far more trust in the Unions than the lawyers. As an aside AfriForum is an Afrikaner working class civil rights organisation launched by the union Solidariteit and not as you describe ‘a regional business lobby group’.
— Wessel van Rensburg, Montreal, Canada
• Cheers to the dockers!
— Rui, Lisbon,
• Another good reason to demonstrate against the Olympic torch relay. Repression at home and shipment of arms to support repression abroad.
— R.Hirst, Tokyo, Japan
• Good on these guys for standing up and being counted when their leaders are displaying craven weakness.
— Claire, much hadham, herts
• God Bless the dockworkers of Durban. They are courageous and full of heart.
— Graham, New York,
© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.