The United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 was passed in November 1977, in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising. However, a year had passed in which lobbyists, chief among them the African National Congress, had advocated for an arms embargo against apartheid South Africa.

In a rare unanimous vote, all states present agreed that all states shall “cease forthwith any provision to South Africa of arms and related material of all types, including the sale or transfer of weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary police equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and shall cease as well the provision of all types of equipment and supplies and granted licensing arrangement for the manufacture or maintenance of the aforementioned.”

The resolution had followed the August 1963 ‘voluntary’ arms embargo against South Africa; UNSC Resolution 181. That resolution it would also seem, came in the aftermath of the massacres at Sharpeville and Langa. However, 14 years later, UNSC resolution 418 would establish a mandatory arms embargo. This time round, the international community came out in condemnation of the regime’s excessive use of force and repressive nature towards school children.

By the time 418 was passed, our allies in the Frontline States had also campaigned vigorously and correctly pointed out that apartheid South Africa was a threat to regional peace and stability as well. Given their illegal use of force in Angola and the illegal occupation of Namibia, the regime simply could not be trusted with arms.

Sadly by 1987, Raymond Paretzky in his article, “The United States Arms Embargo Against South Africa: An Analysis of the Laws, Regulations, and Loopholes”, would describe the Reagan administration’s attitude towards the arms embargo as having a “piecemeal approach…toward implementing the arms embargo against South Africa…” which “…contain[ed] omissions and loopholes.” Paretzky went on to insist that “…even if a total trade embargo is not imposed, the United States should increase the effectiveness of the current arms embargo…”

Despite the Reagan administration’s failure to support fully the call for an end to apartheid, the return of political exiles and the release of all political prisoners, the arms embargo played a pivotal role in the international moral fight against apartheid. No country, at the time, with a moral conscience wanted to support and supply arms to an immoral regime just to have their products used to massacre innocent people and children; especially men, women and children fighting for equality, liberty and a united community.

Five years after the passing of UNSC Resolution 418, the apartheid regime established the state owned, Armaments Corporation of South Africa. Not only would Armscor now procure arms for the regime, illegally and through the type of loopholes mentioned by Paretzky, but it would also commence with the production of arms for the regime. Armscor would work closely with countries such as Israel to ensure that they accessed the necessary equipment and materials to build weapons that would be used to mete out violence against our people. By 1984, the UNSC had passed Resolution 558 which discouraged states from purchasing South African arms, ammunition and military vehicles.

Armscor served as the frontrunner of what we have today, the state-owned enterprise called Denel. In 1992, just before liberation, the De Klerk regime undertook a wide scale revision and restructuring of state owned enterprises and thus many of the subsidiaries of Armscor were split. The provision of arms to our national defence force was separated from the production of arms.

As with all our SOE’s, Denel plays a pivotal role in the developmental state that South Africa wishes to pursue and we must ensure that its products, not only in arms, contributes to the global economy undergoing the fourth industrial revolution.

However, in the light of our guiding philosophy of ubuntu, we cannot turn a blind eye to whom Denel sells arms just so that we can meet our developmental objectives. South Africa has always prided itself on championing a foreign policy that at many times is at odds with those who have might in the world while we hold the torch for justice, freedom and equality.

According to Quwa Defence News and Analysis Group, in April 2016, a subsidiary of Denel signed a deal with an arms production site in Saudi Arabia to the value of US$240 million. That deal was followed with one in which a subsidiary of Denel would coproduce ZT3 Ingwe missiles, known as ATGM for its laser-guided anti-tank capability, with the Saudis. The missile has a range of 250 to 5 000 metres. It must be mentioned though that great pressure is being put on Denel to sign away its intellectual property rights on this product. A product produced since the eighties in South Africa. These are but two examples of recent deals.

Just recently in July, President Ramaphosa undertook a state visit to the Kingdom where the Saudis pledged to commit US$10 billion as direct investment into our country. In the main, these investments pertain to our energy sector which is in much need of investment and rejuvenation. In particular, the president mentioned the R5 billion investment by the Saudi company ACWA Power in the Bokport solar power plant in the Northern Cape.

Yet South Africa cannot ignore the probability that arms used in the conflicts in the region specifically could be sourced from our state owned enterprise, Denel. We cannot in good and moral conscience stand by while journalists are abducted on foreign soil and disappear. While we would support international calls for an investigation, we cannot do what the US, Israel and other western countries did during the fight against apartheid; that is, supply arms to and support a government with a questionable reputation.

On the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, the ANC-led government, through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, has pledged that it “…shall remain seized with this matter through diplomatic channels…” All of us must certainly respect those channels and the processes that are unfolding. We would encourage the strengthening of diplomatic efforts in respect of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as that of the Republic of Turkey.

It is incumbent upon all of us, South Africans and our SOEs to make our world a better place for its people and our children.


Khalid Muhammad Sayed  is the provincial chairperson of the ANCYL in the western Cape

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