Transport workers in Africa are being called on to help prevent a shipment of Chinese weapons from reaching Zimbabwe. A ship loaded with Chinese arms left Durban on Friday, after a South African judge ruled the weapons could not be transported across South African territory to Zimbabwe.
Monday, the International Transport Workers Federation called on its member trade unions and the International Trade Union Confederation to stop what it calls the “dangerous and destabilizing shipment.”
David Cockroft is general secretary of the International Transport Workers Federation. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the action the ITF has taken.
“The first thing which we did was strongly support the action taken by our affiliate SATAWU in the port of Durban…now that we know that the ship is no longer going to dock in Durban because a court ruling has been obtained, which would impound the arms if they arrive in a South African port. We’re trying very hard to track down where that ship’s going,” he says.
Two possible destinations are Mozambique and Angola. “I think we, together with the South African government and many other people, are concerned about where it is,” he says. The ITF has notified dockworkers in both countries about the possible arrival of the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang.
“In addition, we’re talking to the Chinese trade union organizations. There are bodies in China which are called trade unions which are still very much under the influence of the government, but which are showing signs of independence. And we are in direct contact with the All China Federation of Trade Unions and the Chinese Seamen’s Union to talk to them about how they can also intervene to show support for the South Africans and to show support for the Zimbabwean people,” says Cockroft.
Asked why it’s important to stop the shipment of Chinese weapons, the ITF leaders says, “There is no reason why Zimbabwe needs three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition right now. There’s no prospect of there being a sudden external invasion of Zimbabwe. And so it is very difficult for anyone to conclude that this ammunition is likely to be used for anything other than to take action against opposition groups in the very controversial, very sensitive position which is still surrounding the aftermath of the Zimbabwe general elections.”
He says the ITF is not opposed to stopping the shipment permanently, just until the political crisis is settled.
Cockroft denies the ITF action is interfering in free trade between China and Zimbabwe. “If this is free trade I’d love to see what unfree trade is like. This is a government-to-government activity…which is designed to bolster the regime in Zimbabwe, which is clearly a regime which is coming to its end. And there is no reason why there needs to be a supply of arms of this level at this stage in Zimbabwe history.