April 11 2011
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who chairs the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), has defended South Africa’s track-record on sale of conventional arms, saying the country would not authorise sales if “there are grounds to believe that such arms may be used in conflict areas or by governments to commit atrocities against their own people”.
This followed Independent Newspapers’ revelation on Sunday that, according to the NCACC’s 2010 annual report, South Africa sold arms estimated at more than R35-billion to 78 countries, including some of the world’s most repressive regimes, last year.
Included on the list are Libya (R68.9 million), where forces loyal to leader Muammar Gaddafi are fighting an uprising, but also Syria (R7.7m), Yemen (R239.4m), Egypt (R96.9m), where Hosni Mubarak was deposed after non-violent protests, and Thailand (R5.7m), where government troops last year used force against the Red Shirt protesters who brought Bangkok to a standstill for days.
The DA on Sunday called on Radebe to appear before the joint standing committee on defence to explain these exports.
Justice ministry spokesman Tlali Tlali said the transactions with Libya were concluded at a time when there was no evidence of possible unrest. The decision to go ahead with the sales was made following investigations by NCACC sub-committees, in line with South Africa’s international obligations and “in a responsible manner”.
He added that the NCACC had never refused to appear before any committee of Parliament. An invitation to the NCACC to appear before that committee on May 12 last year, was withdrawn at the last minute.
“The NCACC is ready to and remains available to appear before any committee of Parliament to account for its affairs,” Tlali added.
But DA MP David Maynier on Sunday was adamant that Radebe had questions to answer.
“He owes us an explanation. I don’t see why they should not disclose the categories (of conventional weapons),” Maynier told Independent Newspapers.
The categories range from items like night-vision goggles to fighter jets, missiles, artillery guns and bombs.
As only broad categories are stated, further details on the alleged sale of more than 100 sniper rifles and 50 000 rounds of ammunition to Libya will depend on the outcome of the Public Protector’s investigation.
The probe was started after Maynier was asked to leave the National Assembly last month for unparliamentary language after asking Radebe whether he could confirm the sale, and how it felt “to have blood on his hands”.
Radebe declined to answer the question as the MP who asked it was no longer in the house. The Speaker did not permit another DA MP to press for an answer.
Earlier Radebe told Parliament that South Africa had exported conventional weapons worth R80,9m to Libya between 2003 and 2009.
The last time Radebe appeared before the committee was in September 2009 to brief the members on the 2008 NCACC annual report. The reasons for this remain unclear.
However, it appears that the release of the NCACC’s 2010 annual report, albeit eight days late, was a fluke. According to Maynier, the report was only tabled after an attempt by the Department of Defence to classify it and submit it as a confidential document.
He added that he was surprised to find Syria and Yemen, two repressive regimes with an unsavoury human rights record, among the list of countries that received conventional weapons.
The governments of both countries have faced pro-democracy protests recently.
“The NCACC now appears to be above the law, routinely authorising conventional arms sales to repressive regimes, and operating beyond proper scrutiny and oversight by Parliament,” Maynier said.
Attempts to reach justice and defence ministry spokesmen yesterday proved unsuccessful as their cellphones were switched off.