SALC IN THE NEWS: HOW CIVIL SOCIETY BLOCKED AN ARMS SHIPMENT FOR ZIMBABWE

Salc : Staff Writer

In April 2008, a Chinese ship carrying arms destined for Zimbabwe’s Defence Force

attempted to offload those weapons in Durban’s harbour, so that they might be transported

across South African territory to land-locked Zimbabwe. South African civil society, alerted

to the existence of the arms and anxious that they might be used to suppress democratic

forces in the aftermath of Zimbabwe’s controversial elections, undertook a number of

actions to stop delivery. Among them, they obtained a court order preventing the offloading

and transfer of the arms cargo and the ship then fled Durban in an attempt to find another

southern African port.

But civil society in Mozambique, Namibia and Angola also demonstrated against any

offload and transfer. While the ship was eventually allowed to dock in Luanda it was not

allowed to discharge the arms and set off home to China with its unwanted cargo still

on board.

Zimbabwe made the unlikely claim that it had received the shipment. Either way, it

made no difference. The campaign was deemed to be a resounding success. The issue

became a rallying point for co-ordinated, region-wide civil society mobilisation. Factors

such as the strategic role of media, effective use of regional partnerships and international

co-operation and that the ship represented a tangible rallying point were critical to

success. And the broader geo-political context — that the region’s leaders were seen

to be prepared to actively facilitate Zimbabwe’s lawlessness and were not maintaining a

principled stance of non-intervention — helped to fuel public outrage and contribute to

the impact of the campaign.