SA Must Stop 'Arms Race' - DA
Iaine Harper, Sapa
Johannesburg - Reports suggesting southern Africa faced a potential arms race because of Zimbabwe's purchase of $240m worth of Chinese fighter jets were alarming, said the Democratic Alliance on Tuesday.
"The sale of these weapons to Zimbabwe would appear directly to contravene a request made by Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to China to stop selling arms to sub-Saharan Africa for this reason," said chief whip Douglas Gibson.
"Zimbabwe's purchase of these weapons also defies a 1998 appeal made by Kofi Annan that defence expenditure in Southern Africa be frozen for 10 years at 1.5% of countries' GDP."
Far from this appeal being respected, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Uganda and South Africa have all committed themselves to expensive arms procurement packages since then, he observed.
"The fact that southern African military expenditure has expanded by 30% since 1998 is scandalous for the poorest region in the world.
"It is also a direct violation of the spirit of Nepad (New Partnership for Africa's Development), the central premise of which is the reduction of armed conflict in Africa as the first precondition for meaningful economic activity."
Zimbabwe's latest purchase comes against a backdrop of an economic implosion, hyperinflation, massive unemployment and the prospect of famine.
"Are these aircraft really intended for the defence of Zimbabwe? If so, against whom?" asked Gibson.
He also believed South Africa had to assert its leadership on the issue to ensure that southern African states adhered to limiting defence expenditure to 1.5% of GDP.
"South Africa must also discontinue its own arms exports to countries such Congo-Brazzaville, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda, because these weapons can only serve to increase conflict in these unstable countries.
"Southern Africa cannot afford an escalating arms race; it could threaten the security and economic prosperity of the region. South Africa must show decisive leadership before it is too late."
A report at the weekend, attributed to the United States defence magazine, Armed Forces Journal, said Dlamini-Zuma reportedly made the request during a meeting of the China-South Africa bilateral forum.
But the same report said foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa could not recall Dlamini-Zuma making such a request.
Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party reportedly also has denied the purchase.
Zimbabwe is said to be acquiring 12 FC-1 attack fighters as replacements for their fleet of Chengdu F-7, based in Gweru.
The F7 is an inferior "Chinese copy" of the antiquated Russian MiG 21 "Fishbed" fighter.
The FC-1 by comparison, a lightweight multipurpose fighter, is said to be a credible answer to the challenge posed by the Gripen multirole fighter ordered from Sweden by South Africa.
With acknowledgements to Iaine Harper, Sapa and News24.