Outcry as S.Africa donates military gear to Zimbabwe
South Africa on Friday said it will donate helicopter spares and frames to Zimbabwe's military, sparking outcry as it comes just before Zimbabweans go to the polls.
“We are sending spare parts of the helicopter that has been phased out and the frames,” said Siphiwe Dlamini, spokesman for the Department of Defence.
The size of the delivery and its timeframe could not be confirmed, but Dlamini insisted assembled helicopters will not be sent across the border.
“These things are not assembled — they are spare parts and frames. There is nothing like a fully-fledged helicopter.”
The materiel is part of the French-developed Alouette III craft.
But the move prompted one lobby group to threaten legal action against President Jacob Zuma’s government, fearing misuse by Zimbabwe’s military, which backed President Robert Mugabe in previous bloody elections.
“Indications are that the Zimbabwean Defence Force is increasing its visibility, mobility and presence all over Zimbabwe” ahead of the elections said Willie Spies a legal representative of AfriForum.
The largely Afrikaner interest group has vowed to use “all legal avenues” to stop the move.
The polls will replace a shaky compromise government between Mugabe and long-term foe Morgan Tsvangirai, forced by 2008 election violence which killed around 200 people. The date has yet to be set.
The military deal has been in the works for some time.
The original decision to donate the materiel, which dates back to the 1960s and was used by apartheid forces, was taken in 1997 and the helicopters were retired 10 years later.
It is not clear why the deliveries were not made sooner after 2007, but Dlamini said a thorough inventory had to be done.
AfriForum said it would also appeal to the international community to stop the trade.
“We are also writing to the French Ambassador to South Africa, to inform him about a potential risk of his country being in contravention of the European Union arms embargo against Zimbabwe,” said legal representative Willie Spies.
United Nations sanctions against Zimbabwe, including an arms embargo, were vetoed in 2008.
But the European Union and the United States imposed a visa ban and assets freeze on Mugabe and dozens of top officials, as well as an arms embargo on the country following disputed presidential polls in 2002.
Mugabe retained control of the army and police under the power sharing deal.