• SANDF's chopper gift to Zim may flout arms trade law, says DA

    The Democratic Alliance has called for an immediate investigation into the SANDF's donation of retired military helicopters

    The Democratic Alliance has called for an immediate investigation into the SANDF's donation of retired military helicopters

The Democratic Alliance has called for an immediate investigation into the South African National Defence Force's donation of retired military helicopters and spares to the Zimbabwean army.

David Maynier, the DA's defence spokesperson, has written a letter to Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe citing concerns that the hardware is "reportedly about to be exported to Zimbabwe without the authorisation of the national conventional arms control committee".

The letter, written to Radebe in his capacity as chairperson of that committee, follows the Mail & Guardian's report last Friday that the SANDF plans to donate remaindered Alouette III helicopters and spares to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF).

"If the report in the M&G is correct, then it would seem to me to have been an attempt by the defence department to circumvent the law regulating the trade in conventional arms," Maynier said.

News of the impending donation sparked fears that the military chopper fleet would be used to prop up Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF, as Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold elections later this year.

After the M&G article, lobby group AfriForum won an interim interdict in the North Gauteng High Court freezing the planned transfer.

Now the group is gearing for a court showdown with the defence department to stop the donation altogether.

The interim order is valid until the main court application is hear on February 19.

AfriForum's legal spokesperson, Willie Spies, said the organisation is preparing court papers and is rallying support from international human rights organisations.

"At the moment we are waiting for the [defence] minister's [Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula] answer and after that we will file our reply."

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change has predicted that the military will interfere in the country's upcoming elections, as it did during the violent 2008 presidential run-off to save Mugabe.

South Africa's defence department has defended the donation, saying that it stemmed from "a decision that was taken by the former and first minister of defence, Joe Modise, in 1997 when [the Alouettes] were being phased out.

"How the donation of the spares to the ZDF relates to the forthcoming elections in that country is difficult to understand."

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email amabhungane@mg.co.za

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.


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