The people of Zimbabwe have been waiting patiently – perhaps too patiently – to hear the outcome of elections that are now almost three weeks old. Since yesterday, they’ve been waiting to see what happens to the cargo of the An Yue Jiang.
According to the Times of London, the ship left China in late March, at roughly the time of the March 29th election. (This is London reports that the arms deal was finalized on April 1st, three days after the elections, late enough for the ZANU-PF government to know they were facing a lost or closely contested election.)
The ship carries mining cargo for Botswana, and a 77 tons of small arms destined for Zimbabwe – AK-47 rounds, rocket propelled grenades, mortar shells. There is understandable fear that this materiel could be transferred from the Zimbabwe government to pro-government militias, or simply used against by the military in attacks on citizens who demand that MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangarai be allowed to take power. As “Hope” writing on “This is Zimbabwe” puts it, “We call them guns; Mugabe calls them ‘campaign materials'”.
South African President Thabo Mbeki faced international pressure to block the shipment – he and his staff argued that this was a legitimate transaction between governments, and pointed out that Zimbabwe doesn’t currently face an arms embargo. Fortunately, many South Africans disagreed with that position.
The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union, an organization that represents 300,000 South African workers, refused to unload the ship, citing concerns about arming a government that does not appear to be respecting election results. (It was briefly reported that a state-owned company, Armscor, might be asked to unload the ship over the objections of SATAWU.) And Anglican bishop Rubin Phillips, backed up by the South African Litigation Center, petitioned the Durban High Court to block the shipment. The court ordered that the ship could be offloaded, but that the cargo could not be transmitted across the South Africa/Zimbabwe border. Reuters reports that the ship has subsequently left Durban, evidently without offloading the arms.
So what now? Now we watch other Southern African ports to see whether the ship will be allowed to dock and offload elsewhere. Keep a close eye on Beira, a port city in Mozambique that’s an easy drive to Harare. It will be interesting to see whether civil society in Mozambique is capable of mobilizing as effectively as South African organizations did. Don’t bet on it.
Heh. Or maybe they’re in more of a hurry. According to a NYTimes story, “the last radio transmission the authorities heard from the ship was this: ‘Next port, Maputo,’ referring to the capital of Mozambique.” Interesting. The main roads from Maputo to Zimbabwe pass through South Africa. I still think Beira is a better bet, as it’s a straight shot from Mozambique to Zimbabwe.