Saturday, April 19, 2008
A Chinese arms ship bound for Zimbabwe was expelled from Durban, South Africa on Friday evening by the city’s High Court.
This comes after China, soon to host the Olympic games in Beijing, has come under world scrutiny for its human rights record and after Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe created further rifts internationally by denouncing opposing nations. In Zimbabwe votes from 23 out of the 210 constituencies are still being recounted after Mr. Mugabe suspected opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of rigging the recent parliamentary elections. Mr. Tsvangirai claims that the delay in releasing the results is because Mr. Mugabe wants to “steal the election.”
Dockworkers in Durban refused to help unload the cargo of the An Yue Jiang, threatening protests and violence if the government tried to do it without them. Many believed the arms were to be used by Mugabe and Zanu-PF to repress Zimbabwean citizens. Other protesters included unions and human rights groups, who made a petition for the ship to be expelled.
According to the South African Mail & Guardian, the ship contained three million rounds of ammunition for AK-47s, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and several thousand mortar rounds sealed in blue and red boxes.
The South African government, which prefers ‘quiet diplomacy’ over ‘megaphone diplomacy’ when handling Zimbabwe said that the cargo was legally permitted to cross through South Africa, Defence Secretary January Masilela stated that “if the buyer is the Zimbabwean sovereign government and the seller is the Chinese sovereign government, South Africa has nothing to do with that”. Nevertheless the Durban High Court ruled against this after an appeal by the Anglican archbishop of the province.
This leaves South Africa in a deep split over its Zimbabwe policy, some wishing to follow president Thabo Mbeki’s softly-softly approach, others like Randall Howard, General Secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union saying that “the South African government cannot be seen as propping up a military regime”.