What a delight to see the people of southern Africa act decisively where their governments have failed.
Ten days ago, the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, was left stranded outside the South African port of Durban after local workers refused to unload its cargo of arms bound for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe regime.
The cargo included 3080 cases comprising three million rounds of ammunition for AK-47 assault rifles and 69 rocket-propelled grenades, as well as mortar bombs and tubes. These are vital supplies for the campaign of state terror being waged by the mad, megalomaniac Mugabe, the Idi Amin of Zimbabwe.
The South African government had approved the arms transfer across its territory to the land-locked regime without a scruple. South Africa’s Defence Secretary January Masilela said it was a normal transaction between two sovereign states (China and Zimbabwe). “We are doing our legal part and we don’t have to interfere.”
The head of South African government communications Themba Maseko said the country could not stop the shipment from getting to its destination as it had to be seen to be “treading very carefully” in its relations with Zimbabwe as it was helping facilitate talks between the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF grouping. The same mealy-mouthed comments have been repeated ad nauseum over the years while Zimbabwe’s agony continues.
Compare that with the plain speaking of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU). Its general secretary, Randall Howard, said: “SATAWU does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons. Our members employed at Durban Container Terminal will not unload this cargo and neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road.”
He said the ship should return to China. “South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time when there is a political dispute and a volatile situation between the Zanu-PF and the MDC.” What a fresh breath of principled common sense.
Alongside the workers, the local Anglican bishop Rubin Phillips applied to the Durban High Court to prevent the arms reaching Zimbabwe. The court upheld the application as the required government permit had not yet been issued.
Banned from Durban, the ship first sailed north towards Mozambique and then back south around the cape and headed towards Namibia and Angola. It had numerous options, according to Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit, because there are 32 ports in Africa south of the Equator where its $R9.88 million cargo could be unloaded. However, once the Durban port workers had highlighted the issue it rapidly became a rallying point for groups across Southern Africa deeply frustrated and embarrassed at the lack of action by their government to deal with their tyrant neighbour.
Angola and Mozambique both said the ship was not welcome in their ports and Zambia called on all countries to stop the arms reaching Zimbabwe. At the time of writing, it appeared the ship was returning to China friendless and isolated.
Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has prevented the country’s Electoral Commission releasing the results of the March 29 presidential election. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change won the majority of parliamentary seats and by all credible accounts also won the presidency. However, Mugabe has forced a recount in 23 constituencies, most of which were won by the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai.
And while the election result is officially stalled, the violent crackdown against opposition supporters has been reinvigorated.
Zimbabwe church leaders have issued a joint statement calling for international intervention to help end the country’s election crisis. They reported people being tortured, abducted and even murdered in the crackdown. Random and systematic acts of violence against MDC candidates, activists and supporters have resumed. It’s business as usual for Mugabe and his thugs.
This appeal falls on deaf ears in South Africa where blind loyalty is thicker than blood for South African President Thabo Mbeki. His government is wholly complicit in the crime against humanity being perpetrated in Zimbabwe. Just as South Africa’s own population suffers from a ruling ANC, which has become corporate and comfortable, so the suffering people of Zimbabwe find few friends in South Africa’s corridors of power.
What the South African workers did was probably illegal but it was the right and courageous thing to do. As the saying goes when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty. Theirs was a principled act of international solidarity. Let’s give a big cheer for the wharfies in Durban.