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S.Africa court freezes military transfer to Zimbabwe

A South African court on Friday froze a donation of military helicopters to Zimbabwe’s army after the planned transfer sparked an outcry ahead of elections in the neighbouring country.

“An urgent interim court order was awarded… to prevent delivery of Alouette III Air Force helicopters by the South African National Defence Force to the Zimbabwean army,” said the AfriForum lobby group, which brought the matter before the court.

The order was handed down late Friday after the group sought an urgent bid to block the move, following news that the South African defence department planned to donate spares and frames of its retired chopper fleet to Zimbabwe.

“All indications are that the Zimbabwean army is enhancing its visibility, mobility and presence across Zimbabwe in anticipation of the national elections that are scheduled to take place later this year,” said AfriForum in a statement.

The interim order is valid until a main court application is finalised by February 19.

The materiel is part of the French-developed Alouette III helicopter and is intended for the Zimbabwean Defence Force (ZDF), which backed President Robert Mugabe in previous bloody elections.

“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 the 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.”

South Africa’s defence department said the equipment was part of a decision that dated back to 1997.

Zimbabwe’s polls this year — though no date has yet been set — will replace a shaky compromise government between Mugabe and long-time foe Morgan Tsvangirai, forced by 2008 election violence which killed around 200 people.