Controversy is brewing over a shipment of Chinese weapons purchased by the Zimbabwe government. Protests are being planned in South Africa because the arms are due to be shipped to Zimbabwe through South African territory. The Chinese weapons are currently in Durban and are destined for use by the Zimbabwe Defense Force.
An Afrikaans interest group, AfriForum, is among those opposed to allowing the arms shipment to pass through South Africa. Kallie Kriel is the head of the group. From Pretoria, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about his concerns.
“If you look at what’s happening at the moment, you have government-sponsored violence and where the Zimbabwean government is using the Defense Force to act against their own people; and you see a lot of human rights abuses. And therefore we believe that no country should take part in any process that would help to arm the Zimbabwean Defense Force at the moment. Especially, we’ve heard from senior leaders in the Zimbabwean Defense Force that they would not accept election results which lead to (President) Robert Mugabe being forced from his position. And therefore we believe it is actually irresponsible for the South African government to allow this,” he says.
He says it’s a matter of human rights. “Our government cannot say that they are in favor of promoting human rights on the one hand, but on the other hand they are playing the role to arm the Zimbabwean Defense Force, which are making themselves guilty of gross human rights violations,” he says.
A government spokesperson is quoted as saying, “We are not in a position to act unilaterally and interfere in a trade deal between two countries.”
Kriel responds, “We can’t just wash our hands and say that we have nothing to do with this. Our country’s territory is going to be used, from our view actually abused, to make sure that this deal goes ahead. And we believe the sensible thing for our government is to stop the ship from docking.”
Asked whether South Africa has a legal right to prevent the shipment passage, he says, “If you go and look at our country’s constitution, our government is legally obliged to look after the safety of our own citizens. And what is happening, you have literally thousands of Zimbabwean people that are crossing our borders. We are seeing that there’s a lot of crime coming from that. We are seeing that our country already has a large number of unemployed people and poor people. We simply don’t have the resources to carry thousands of poor people crossing the border.”
He says AfriForum is looking for sites along the shipment route for protests. He says the demonstrations would be similar to those that have been staged regarding the Olympic Torch relay stemming from the China-Tibet issue.