AfriForum stops delivery of helicopters to Zimbabwe
High court halts SANDF exports amid fears equipment will be used by President Mugabe’s government to intimidate voters
The export of helicopters and parts donated by South Africa to Zimbabwe has been halted for now until a final decision is made over whether it is legal.
AfriForum, which is working with human rights organisations in Zimbabwe on the issue, convinced the North Gauteng High Court on Friday to prevent the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) from “transferring or delivering Alouette helicopters or any spares for such helicopter” to the Zimbabwe Defence Force.
There are fears that the equipment will be used by President Robert Mugabe’s government to intimidate voters ahead of the country’s referendum on a new Constitution in March, followed by elections within three months.
If this were the case, the export of donated parts or helicopters could be illegal in South African law.
AfriForum said in its papers these helicopters were used during Zimbabwe’s 2008 parliamentary elections “as instruments of suppression” by the governing Zanu-PF party.
It said the Zimbabwe Defence Force would “be eager to obtain the helicopters and spares as soon as possible to proceed with the use thereof during the politically turbulent period in Zimbabwe”.
Lawyers are set to return to court on February 25 to argue that the exports should be permanently halted.
Siphiwe Dlamini, spokesperson for the department of defence, said yesterday the department hadn’t seen the judgment yet.
“Once we receive it, we will study it and decide on the way forward,” he said.
Dlamini maintained that the department wasn’t planning to export entire helicopters, only parts.
“There are strict regulations when you dispose of military material,” he said.
The department said in an earlier statement the decision to donate the “air frames and spares” to the Zimbabwe Defence Force “was taken by the former and first minister of defence, Mr Joe Modise, in 1997 when the helicopters were being phased out”.
It said the donation had nothing to do with the forthcoming elections and was part of a bilateral agreement with the Zimbabwe Defence Force.
“A number of exchanges in various fields between the two defence forces have taken place and will continue,” it said.
AfriForum’s Willie Spies yesterday said the department could not appeal an interim interdict and would have to argue the case in court next month.
He said confidential minutes of a meeting stipulated that helicopters were to be donated, but he said even if the SANDF exported only parts, these could still be put together to make a helicopter.
“They are just looking for a loophole,” he said.
Spies also said AfriForum had informed the French embassy that the donation could possibly breach the UN arms embargo against Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe and South Africa have both been using the Alouette III since the 1960s.
It isn’t clear how many Alouette helicopters the Zimbabwe Defence Force has, or what condition they are in.