It seems that despite the fantastic news that Satawu workers are refusing to offload or transport Mugabe's consignment of Chinese weapons, the South African government has been unbending in its stance. The Times (UK) reports that,
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.
Can a transaction in arms ever be considered 'normal' during abnormal times?
I'm nothing more than a confused Zimbabwean, but I want to know what happens when the postman arrives at the door of Zimbabwe's State House asking for the President to sign for the delivery... who signs for it?
We voted three weeks ago and we still don't (officially) know who our President is?
I haven't seen the parade of elected MPs walking into Parliament ready to take control of our nation's affairs, so this confused Zimbabwean would really like January Masilela to define normal for me and offer me and the others (who are likely to be on the receiving end of those bullets) some guarentee that he is very sure it is the elected government of Zimbabwe who is about to receive the weapons, and not a gang of potential thugs who will use them to create a civil war when things don't go their way.
How can he possibly know who has been elected when we haven't even been told?
If I understand it correctly, one of the duties of NCACC (which he chairs) is to "ensure that arms trade and transfer policies conform to internationally accepted practice".
There's a policy document buried deep on the South Africa Department of Defence's website in a Policy for the Control of Trade in Conventional Arms (link to pdf file). It's peppered with noble sentiments like these:
South Africa is a responsible member of the international community and contributes towards bringing about international peace and security through maintaining integrity in the trade in conventional arms.
Wouldn't it be a lot smarter for a South African government that claims to care about things like 'peace' and 'international security' to hold off for a bit on this delivery, and wait and see what happens?
I don't think holding off would be a big problem because a little later in the document, arms traders are warned of a few things that will be taken into account by the NCACC when making decisions on trade in conventional arms. Section 4.a.ii (page 8 ) includes this consideration:
National policy decisions not to trade in conventional arms and military equipment [...] with [...] countries involved in the systematic violation or suppression of humanitarian rights and fundamental freedoms;
There's the 'get out of jail free' card for the South African government right there.
On the international side of things, apparently there are a range of agreements which are on the brink of being violated, including the 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement. The Wassenaar Arrangement website explains one of the principles behind the agreement:
The Participating States seek through their national policies to ensure that transfers of arms and dual-use goods and technologies do not contribute to the development or enhancement of military capabilities that undermine international and regional security and stability and are not diverted to support such capabilities.
If the South African government held back on authorising the transfer of this particular consignment, I expect the majority of freedom loving countries in the world would support them in this sensible stance.
With this is mind, I am left in complete agreement with the comment made by the South African Institute of Race Relations which said that if the shipment goes ahead, "South Africa's culpability in the Zimbabwe crisis would then be without question."
This afternoon, Anglican bishop Rubin Phillips arrived at the Durban High Court "in a bid to obtain an urgent interdict to prevent the unloading of a Chinese ship carrying arms and weapons destined for Zimbabwe". He has the backing of the SA Litigation Centre (Salc) whose Director, Nicole Fritz said:
"Given the current situation in Zimbabwe, with increasing attacks on Zimbabweâ€™s civilian population by government forces, it is hard to imagine clearer circumstances in which South African authorities were obliged to refuse the grants of any conveyance permit" (link).
The result of this action - for which I am so grateful for - is that the High Court has,
granted an interim order that the controversial arms shipment on board the Chinese cargo vessel, the An Yue Jiang, be placed under the curatorship of the Sheriff of the Court. This effectively means that once the ship is docked the cargo will be seized by the court.(via SABC news)
It's another incredible step taken by South African civil society on behalf of the people of Zimbabwe and we thank them with all our heart.
But what happens next is something we all need to consider. I may be just a confused Zimbabwean, but experience as a Zimbabwean has educated me in the vicious ruthless relentless ways of dictators and despots; the fact is, I don't think it will end here.
My fear here is that the ship simply won't dock and may instead go to Mozambique or Angola where the consignment may silently arrive and be dispatched forthwith.
We need to prepare, well in advance, to lobby these governments and civil society in those countries to follow the example set by South African civil society and Satawu before the next ships arrive there.
My hope is that the rest of the cargo on board that ship poses too much of financial loss to whoever owns the An Yue Jiang to do that. I really hope the ship will dock, offload all their cargo, including the weapons, and then return to China with the captain giving a fatalistic 'not my problem' shrug of the shoulders.
This is one financial loss that I, a Zimbabwean taxpayer, am happy to just write off.
I hope that people following this story have their eyebrows raised to hairline level in China's complicity in the Mugabe's violent treatment of the Zimbabean people. If you remember, we started following this story because we'd learned of the presence of Chinese military in Mutare. This is all utterly unacceptable. The idea that China is hosting the Olympics is just too incredible for me to comprehend.
My mind is turning to ways we can lobby against them in that quarter.
Let's be realistic about this: even if the weapons don't get to Zimbabwe this time, the existing presence of the Chinese military in Zimbabwe indicates that China already has a vested interest in aiding and abetting human rights violation in our country. That has to be stopped.
Update: Less than a few minutes after posting this, we got a call telling us that the ship had left the port and was in international waters. That's the rumour anyway. I guess it's on its way to Beira..?