25 January 2013

Zimbabwe: South Africa Court Halts Donation of Helicopters to Zimbabwe Defence Force

A South African court on Friday granted an interim interdict to halt the delivery of a fleet of helicopters to Zimbabwe, amid fears of another violent election there this year.

The entire fleet of French built Alouette III helicopters and spare parts have been set aside as a 'donation' by the South Africa National Defence Force (SANDF) to the Zimbabwe Defence Force.

But South African civil rights group AfriForum applied for the interdict on Friday, arguing that Zimbabwe's human rights record, and the role that the country's military has played in previous elections, support fears of future violence during the next poll.

"Indications are that the Zimbabwean Defence Force is increasing its visibility, mobility and presence all over Zimbabwe ahead of the national elections scheduled for later this year. The Zimbabwean Defence Force stepped in to back President Robert Mugabe in the 2008 presidential run-off and that military operation involved a systematic, brutal crackdown on MDC supporters," AfriForum said.

Last week, AfriForum's legal representatives wrote to the South Africa Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula as well as Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, (who chairs the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, the NCACC) about speculation that the SANDF had decided to donate its Alouette fleet to Zimbabwe.

The ministers were given seven days to respond to the letter, but AfriForum did not receive any answer or explanation. Instead spokespeople for both ministers confirmed to the Mail & Guardian newspaper that the donation was finalised and that delivery of the helicopters was imminent.

According to AfriForum's legal representative, Willie Spies, the group's reasons for seeking an interdict are primarily to do with Zimbabwe's human rights record. He explained that in terms of South African law, the NCACC "must consider certain principles before a transaction for the disposal of military equipment to another country is authorised." He said these principles include, amongst others, the human rights-record of the country in question.

"We all know the human rights history of Zimbabwe and what happened in the 2008 elections. There are so many reports of military helicopters being used to provide transport for militia groups, to intimidate people, to unleash terror. It cannot be right for it to happen again and South Africa cannot be an accomplice to this," Spies said.

He explained that the donation is also considered by many to be a "circumvention of a European Union arms embargo against Zimbabwe," as a result of the South African government's disposal of French imported spare parts to Zimbabwe.

The interim order granted Friday will remain until the main application is finalised by 19 February 2013.

To contact this reporter email alex@swradioafrica.com or follow on Twitter

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