SA defence force defends deal with Zim

JOHANNESBURG - The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has defended the disposal of military helicopter airframes and spares to Zimbabwe amid threats of legal  action to stop the move.

The Mail&Guardian newspaper (M&G) reported that fears had surfaced that  retired military helicopters from the SANDF would be used to prop up  President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF.

However,  SANDF corporate communication director Brig-Gen Xolani Mabanga said the  decision to donate and dispose of Alouette III helicopter airframes and  spares to the Zimbabwean Defence Force (ZDF) was made by former defence  minister Joe Modise in 1997, when they were being phased out of  service.

“How the donation of the spares to the ZDF relate to the forthcoming  elections in that country is difficult to understand,” Mabanga said.

All processes for the disposal had been completed and the spares were ready for dispatch to Zimbabwe as a donation.

“There is no truth in that the donation of this material has taken  place. Furthermore there is no truth of the SANDF donating helicopters  as alleged in the news reports (yesterday).

“The SANDF would like to place it on record that it has a bilateral  agreement with the ZDF, and a number of exchanges in various fields  between the two defence forces have taken place and will continue,” he  said.

The M&G reported  the SANDF was “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 Mugabe and his Zanu PF party back in power in polls expected this year".

The  aged but versatile Alouette III, which had been operated by the  military in both countries since the 1960s, would be a force multiplier  for the ZDF, providing fast access to rural areas.

According to the M&G, Zimbabwe was 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.

In  a statement issued in response to the report, civil rights group  AfriForum said it would take urgent legal action to prevent the  “imminent delivery of Alouette III SANDF Air Force helicopters” to the  ZDF.

AfriForum's  legal representative Willie Spies said it would use all legal avenues  at its disposal to prevent the dispatch and delivery of the aircraft to  Zimbabwe.

“We are also writing to the French ambassador to South Africa, to inform  him about a potential risk of his country being in contravention of the  European Union arms embargo against Zimbabwe, as a result of the South  African government's disposal of French imported spare parts to  Zimbabwe," he said.

In  terms of the National Conventional Arms Control Act, the National  Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), chaired by Justice minister  Jeff Radebe, had to consider certain principles before a transaction  for the disposal of military equipment to another country was  authorised.

These principles included, among others, the human rights-record of the country in question, Spies said.

The NCACC was apparently relying on the classification of the  helicopters as “civilian” after their guns were stripped out, though  both the giver and the recipient were military. — Mail and Guardian

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