The African press is hailing the coalition of South African humanrights groups, media, unions and judiciary who defied their governmentand prevented the offloading of arms destined for Zimbabwe. The shiphas now been recalled to China.
The An Yue Jiang, the Chinese ship transporting the arms, docked inDurban last week with three million rounds of AK-47 ammunition, 1,500rocket-propelled grenades, and 3,500 mortars and mortar tubes. Thoseopposing the arms shipment feared that Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabewould use the arms to kill and intimidate opposition protestingMugabe’s attempts to hold power after a disputed election on March 29.
In an editorial, Mmegi of Botswana wrote that the cooperation to thwart the arms shipmentmarked a new era: “We think this is a new chapter in southern Africanhistory. It should be made clear that political leaders should never beallowed to unleash terror on their citizens with impunity.”
Business Day of Johannesburg was vehement in its criticism of the South Africangovernment. “…the government is guilty, at best, of a weak-kneed stanceon Zimbabwe, and at worst, actively supporting Mugabe and his thugs’diabolical behavior.”
Calling the An Yue Jiang the “ship of shame,” the newspaper said thatthe government quickly issued a transit permit for the arms to Zimbabwein spite of the South African law forbidding transfers of arms togovernments that suppress human rights and fundamental freedoms andendanger peace and promote instability with an arms buildup.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to unloadthe weapons and The Southern African Litigation Centre secured an orderfrom the high court to impound the arms.
Unable to unload their deadly cargo, the An Yue Jiang disembarked andwas thought to head for Namibia. But if the ship were able to dock inNamibia, it was certain to meet stiff resistance. The Namibian reported that the Minister of Information thought the ship was nothingspecial, one of many to dock in Namibia to transport goods to Zimbabwe,a landlocked country.
But Namibia unions and human rights groups made clear that thegovernment had ample legal justification for blocking the shipment. Thedock workers announced a boycott of the cargo.
But none of this came about as China recalled the ship after it becameclear that there were no good alternatives to unloading the cargo amidintense pressure from African groups and warnings by the United Statesthat any African country allowing the cargo would sufferdiplomatically. The U.S. urged China to recall the ship.
In an analysis on SW Radio Africa out of London, Tererai Karimakwenda said the South African coalitionalso asked the United Nations and the African Union to prevent the armsfrom being off-loaded in any African country.
Karimakwenda said that the Chinese shipment was only one attempt byMugabe to obtain arms. Most of his orders went unfilled because Mugabelacked foreign currency.
In the Mmegi, Bame Piet reported that South AfricanPresident Thabo Mbeki has said the situation in Zimbabwe did notrepresent a crisis, this in spite of the actions of the 84-year-oldMugabe in refusing to release the results of the elections. Mugabe isinsisting on a recount after widespread reports that his party suffereda major defeat. The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, hasproclaimed victory for his party.
Piet writes that Mugabe is planning to charge Tsvangirai with treason.
Mugabe’s critics say that while Mugabe is widely respected in Africafor his success in delivering his country from white rule, he hasdevastated Zimbabwe by delivering white farms to his cronies and wipingout agriculture. There is a scarcity of all goods in the country andinflation is at 165,000 percent, the BBC reported on April 20.