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South Africa to sell arms to Iran?




So, why is South Africa seeking to sell it weapons worth about R1,5 billion?

Last month, Rapport newspaper reported that state-owned Denel Dynamics has applied, through the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, to the United Nations Security Council to sell a consignment of arms to Iran, including its Umkhonto surface-to-air missile.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran requires Security Council approval for conventional arms transactions until 2020.

History matters here. The apartheid regime had solid relations with Iran under the Shah, but diplomatic contacts were severed by Tehran after the 1979 revolution (despite a secret $750 million weapons-for-oil deal in 1985). The ANC and Iran quickly found common cause against apartheid and imperialism.

In government, the ANC has consistently emphasised Iran’s right to develop civilian nuclear technology, preaching constructive dialogue rather than Western-driven sanctions. South Africa only supported full sanctions after intense US pressure.

Military analyst Helmoed Römer Heitman said: “The government is very strongly influenced by the old guard with their Soviet-induced hatred and suspicion of the US and ‘the West’… Key people in government simply do not believe anything negative about Iran: Iran is hostile to the US and so must be ‘good’.

“Anything to the contrary is despicable US/Western propaganda.”

He draws parallels with South African support for Cuba, Libya (under Muammar Qaddafi) and Zimbabwe.

Michal Onderco, assistant professor of international relations at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, wrote: “In the ANC’s world view, the oppressor today is the West (or the North), which oppresses weaker, smaller states within a fundamentally unjust system.”

And with sanctions now lifting, according to Malte Brosig, associate professor of international relations at Wits University, “there is a ‘gold rush’ feeling around the globe, as Iran is eager to modernise its economy and armed forces… Given South Africa’s shaky economic situation, it should come as no surprise that the government supports these large-scale sales.”

Onderco alludes to “the interest of the South African defence industry in getting contracts abroad to sustain a topnotch but expensive production base”.

Brosig also highlights geopolitics: “Supporting Iran fits into South Africa’s critical position towards Israel and the Palestinian question. Iran supports Hamas. The deal could also be seen from a BRICS perspective [the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa].

“Russia and Iran support Assad in Syria. South Africa has been a stern opponent of regime change. Thus, there might be a link going from Tehran to Damascus, Moscow to Pretoria.”

Since the 2015 nuclear agreement, Pretoria-Tehran relations have rapidly strengthened. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa led several ministers and 80 business leaders to Iran in November 2015, launching the South Africa-Iran Business Council.

President Jacob Zuma met President Hassan Rouhani on a state visit to Iran in April 2016. In December, the respective defence ministers signed a memorandum of understanding on military co-operation, presumably spurring this proposed deal.

“The ANC leadership simply does not share the Western view that what Iran is doing is fundamentally bad,” said Onderco. “It sees a respectable partner that has been victimised and wronged by the West, and sees no reason not do business with it.”

Heitman also sees cynicism, practicality and pragmatism: “If South Africa doesn’t sell the Umkhonto system to Iran, someone else (for now Russia or China, and later Britain or France) will sell them an equivalent system. So why not seize the opportunity now?”

He doubts whether the implications for important existing armaments clients in the Gulf who are anti-Iran – Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have been fully considered.

He notes that government is legally required to consider human rights in prospective arms sales. “But, of course one’s friends never violate human rights, while one’s enemies always do.”

Denel Dynamics was contacted, but declined to comment.


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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Clarence Goldscmidt

    Feb 16, 2024 at 12:24 pm

    One needs to go back to the eighties, a South African aircraft ‘parts’ supplier supplied military F14 parts to Iran, disguised as commercial aircraft parts. The South African government at the time were not involved, however they needed parts for their C130’s legitimately through Europe.The then government weren’t even aware of what was in the manifest, literally.An employee of this particular intermediary company died under mysterious circumstances, was a ‘suicide’ so they say. Probably knew too much….
    Fast Forward to 2017 and the same company under a different name has just supplied C130 parts at R150 million to the SA Airforce, however the deal could only be confirmed if certain criteria were met, namely BBBEE, so who better to have in a ‘Director’ capacity to fulfill the criteria than the ex minister of justice Penuel Maduna.Think arms deal, think how certain business acquisitions were done,certain members of Standard are involved as they facilitate these deals that no other financial institution would ever dare attempt.
    This is not about stripping pension funds,unless you need large sums of money moved out the country.
    It’s all connected, heads of certain SA banks, the questionable ‘directorship’ of these intermediary aircraft supply companies.
    Another major concern is where does the money go? Offshore no doubt, is it declared? Not a damn, creative bookkeeping and physical drop offs in some remote unsavory countries…..

    Wherever there is conflict and war, there will always be a company trying to capatalise off it.

    People are dying and suffering in these war torn countries, and yet these companies thrive and prosper off it.
    It is absolutely beyond disgusting.

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