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Thursday, January 24, 2013
South Africa's helicopter gift for Mugabe
BREAKING NEWS JUST RECEIVED : JOHANNESBURG 25 JANUARY 2013 : 20:00
Court freezes chopper donation to Zim
Alouette III helicopter (Picture: Supplied)
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Johannesburg - The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria has granted an order to freeze the delivery of South African helicopters to the Zimbabwean military, lobby group AfriForum said on Friday.
"An urgent interim court order was awarded to AfriForum late this afternoon by the North Gauteng High Court to prevent delivery of Alouette III Air Force helicopters by the SA National Defence Force to the Zimbabwean army.
"The interim order shall stand pending the finalisation of the main application by 19 February 2013," said AfriForum's legal representative Willie Spies.
AfriForum made the urgent application to the court on Friday after the news about the donation to the Zimbabwean government broke.
Last week, AfriForum's legal team presented letters on the matter to the Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as well as the Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe, who is also chairperson of the national conventional arms control committee.
The letter were written after rumours surfaced that the SANDF had decided to donate its entire fleet of used Alouette helicopters to Zimbabwe.
"The ministers were given seven days to react to the letters, but no reaction had been received by close of business yesterday."
Spies said while the two ministers declined to react to the letters delivered to them, their spokesperson confirmed to Mail & Guardian that arrangements for the delivery of the helicopters had been finalised and that the delivery would take place shortly.
"We have also informed the acting French Ambassador to South Africa in writing of the potential risk for his country, in that France may be contravening the arms embargo against Zimbabwe, as imposed by the European Union, as the South African government will now be donating imported French helicopter parts to Zimbabwe," Spies said.
He said according to the National Conventional Arms Control Act of 2002, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee must consider certain principles before the sale or delivery of military equipment to another country can be authorised.
"These principles include, inter alia, the human rights record of the particular country."
The National Director of Public Prosecutions was recently ordered by the North Gauteng Pretoria to investigate certain offences against humanity committed by Zimbabwean military officers, he said.
Spies said indications were that the Zimbabwean army was enhancing its visibility and mobility in anticipation of the national elections scheduled to take place later this year.
25 JAN 2013 00:00 - CRAIG MCKUNE, STEFAANS BRÜMMER
Fears have surfaced that retired military helicopters from the South African National Defence Force will be used to prop up Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
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The South African National Defence Force is about to send a gift of helicopters and spares to its Zimbabwean counterparts, raising the spectre they will be used in a military-backed campaign to put President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party back in power in polls expected this year.
The Mail & Guardian has seen the confidential minutes of a meeting in Cape Town two months ago between defence chiefs of the two countries.
Under the heading "disposal of Alouette III helicopters and spares", the minutes noted that "the administrative processes in the SANDF have been finalised and the equipment will soon be handed over to the ZDF [Zimbabwe Defence Forces]".
The department of defence confirmed shortly before going to press that "all processes for the disposal have been completed and the airframes and spares are ready for dispatch to that country as a donation".
Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold elections by the end of March, although they are widely expected to be delayed for some months. Apprehension is building in civil society and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that the military will step in, as it did during the violent 2008 presidential run-off to save Mugabe.
The aged but versatile Alouette III, operated by the military in both countries since the 1960s, would be a force multiplier for the ZDF, providing fast access to rural areas.
Zimbabwe is under European and United States weapons sanctions, hampering its air force's efforts to keep its handful of Alouette III and Agusta-Bell light utility helicopters in the air.
The ZDF notoriously stepped in to back Mugabe in the 2008 presidential run-off after the MDC beat Zanu-PF in parliamentary elections. Operation waVhotera Papi (For whom did you vote?) reportedly involved a systematic, brutal crackdown on MDC supporters.
ZDF chief General Constantine Chiwenga openly backs Zanu-PF, and is alleged in media reports and by the MDC to be preparing a campaign to support Zanu-PF's election efforts and to have undermined the current unity government.
The minutes seen by the M&G appear to reflect the ZDF's disdain for power-sharing. The Zimbabwean delegation was quoted as reporting: "The smooth governing of the country remained untenable owing to divergent political ideologies of the political parties in the inclusive government."
The minutes are of the defence committee of the seventh session of the South Africa-Zimbabwe Joint Permanent Commission on Defence and Security, a standing bilateral body. Meeting at Cape Town's Mount Nelson Hotel between November 21 and 23, the committee was co-chaired by South African army chief Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo and his Zimbabwean counterpart, Lieutenant General Philip Valerio Sibanda.
Following allegations that his troops were campaigning for Zanu-PF in rural areas when elections were expected in 2011, Sibanda told the state-owned Herald newspaper: "We have troops in various parts of the country doing training and … assisting in various government departments like health and agriculture. It is unfortunate that we have some people who think that when they see army officers in a particular area ... they are undertaking political activities."
More recently, allegations surfaced of the military going on a vehicle shopping spree in anticipation of elections. The Zimbabwe Independent reported in November that the ZDF was buying about 1 000 Isuzu bakkies, complementing Zanu PF's acquisition of 550 cars, the latter "to ensure its officials and foot soldiers reach all corners of the country to mobilise voters".
The quantity of Aloettes airframes and spares to be handed to the ZDF could not be establishedthis week.
The South African Air Force retired its fleet of Alouette IIIs between 2005 and 2007, when they were replaced by Agusta light utility helicopters ordered in the arms deal. The defence department said in Parliament in 2008 that 17 Alouettes had been stripped of their guns and were for sale.
The Zimbabwe arms embargo is not binding on South Africa, because the Russians and Chinese vetoed a 2008 United Nations Security Council attempt to extend sanctions.
Exports of military hardware from South Africa must be sanctioned by the Cabinet's National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), chaired by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe. Radebe's spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, said the Alouettes and spares did not "fall within the NCACC's parameters of control" under its enabling legislation.
The NCACC is apparently relying on the classification of the helicopters as "civilian" after their guns were stripped out, though both the giver and the recipient are military.
The defence department on Thursday defended the donation, saying that it stemmed from "a decision that was taken by the former and first minister of defence, Joe Modise, in 1997 when [the Alouettes] were being phased out. How the donation of the spares to the ZDF relate to the forthcoming elections in that country is difficult to understand.
"The SANDF would like to place it on record that it has a bilateral agreement with the Zimbabwe Defence Force and a number of exchanges in various fields between the two defence forces have taken place and will continue."
Zimbabwe army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphious Makotore asked for questions to be physically presented to Colonel Overson Mugwisi based at Zimbabwe Defence House in Harare. For safety reasons, the M&G's Harare correspondent did not do this.
MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said on Thursday his party was aware of a plot to beef up the military before elections in support of Mugabe.
"The military chiefs have already stated their objectives and who they will back for president.
"In our respectful view the military is political and it is evident that it will neither respect the views of the people, nor recognise an MDC victory in the coming election." – Additional reporting by M&G Harare correspondent
A legend of the skies
The Alouette III helicopter, which has flown Southern African skies for more than half a century, is a utilitarian machine, known for its durability and affectionately called the draadkar, or "wire car" – a comment on its not very fetching appearance.
Developed by the French in the late 1950s, the Alouette debuted in both the South African and Rhodesian militaries in 1962.
Over the next two decades, the South African Air Force purchased 118 of them, and the Rhodesian Air Force Alouette fleet grew to an estimated 47. When the South African fleet was being retired in 2007, SAAirforce.co.za effusively described it as "a legend in the South African Air Force. Doing all it was asked and more, this amazing helicopter served for 44 years and the fleet flew more than 346 000 hours.
"The Alouette III will be remembered for its durability in the challenging African environment ... It was loved by its pilots and crew, feared by its enemies and regarded as a saviour by those it rescued from a mountain ledge or a flood-devastated area."
Among the many missions over the decades, South Africa's Alouettes were used in the Angolan and Rhodesian bush wars, alongside Rhodesia's machines in the latter case.
Zimbabwe used them during the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2003. A number were reportedly shot down or written off. President Robert Mugabe's forces were left hungry for spares. But the arms embargoes made replacements hard to come by. – Craig McKune
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.
Mail & Guardian
COMMENTS BY SONNY
This is the second time in how many decades that Mugabe gets all our "pensioned"
helicopters (and spares) just before a rigged election.
Private helicopters seem to be sold under a blanket of secrecy to Iran via MTN.
Zimbabwe seems to have a more capable army than SA at the moment.
Even if these helicopters are stripped of their guns they can be refitted in a matter
Zuma really is pushing his part as the King in waiting in AFRICA!
DESPOT MUGABE IS A THREAT TO GLOBAL PEACE.
JOE MODISE's HELICOPTERS WERE DELIVERED TO MUGABE DURING THE SA ARMS DEBACLE.
THIS IS A NEW BATCH OF HELICOPTERS GIVEN TO MUGABE UNDER ZUMA'S WATCH!