22 February 2012

Wikileaks reveals South Africa’s role in weapons deal with ousted Madagascan President

According to information leaked from the US embassy in Madagascar, South Africa assisted the former Madagascan President, who was ousted by a popular military coup d'etat in 2009, by allowing riot control equipment, including grenades, rubber bullets, and teargas, to be shipped from within its borders.

The cable indicates that South Africa unloaded Chinese weapons locally before they were retrieved by then President Marc Ravalomanana's private jet. This arrangement allowed the shipment to avoid the scrutiny of customs officials before being delivered to portions of the military that remained faithful to the ousted President.

The leaked document points out that local security forces were not likely trained to use the weapons delivered. It also suggests that this lack of training increases the risk of fatalities where it states "Ill-trained units would no doubt continue to fire their weapons towards the upper body portion of crowds increasing the risk of head shots with lethal consequences."

Following his being thrown from the seat of power, Ravalomanana was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder after his Presidential guard shot into a crowd of protestors leading up to the 2009 coup. At least 30 people were killed during the incident, with many others injured.

The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), the body responsible for the oversight of weapons movement, failed to prevent or even monitor this movement of weapons through South Africa's borders. The leaked document indicated that for the first 12 to 18 months of President Jacob Zuma's reign, the oversight body "was in serial dereliction of its legislative mandate to meet monthly to scrutinise planned weapons transfers." Instead, individual officers approved deals without seeking approval from the committee.

David Maynier, defence spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance, suggested that NCACC chairperson, and Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe should authorise an investigation into the details of the leaked cable. Despite the legal requirement that authorization be granted by NCACC by issuing a conveyance permit before weapons may be transported through South Africa's territory or seas, the 2009 report of NCACC shows that no permits were granted in that year. This would render South Africa's cooperation in the weapons deal illegal.

The situation is complicated by an additional questionable arms transaction between South Africa and Madagascar while Ravalomanana was still in power. The NCACC authorised a R 2,347,000 sale of riot gear during 2009 as well. Maynier suggests that this deal went through on an ad-hoc basis and was approved in record time and that "There was a high probability that the riot control gear would be used for internal repression."

For more information on this story, please contact the FOIP team at SAHA.