China supplying small arms to Zimbabwe


Zimbabwe has taken delivery of 20 000 AK-47 assault rifles from China as the country re-equips its army ahead of upcoming elections.

The Southern Africa Report, which focuses on political and economic intelligence issues in Africa, reports that the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) has taken delivery of “the first of several consignments of Chinese small arms and equipment,” including AK-47 assault rifles, uniforms, a dozen trucks and 21 000 pairs of handcuffs.

The delivery apparently took place through an ‘African intermediary’ and a second consignment is due by the end of the year.

The Southern Africa Report says the delivery was negotiated by Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa and coordinated by Colonel Ndlahli Mbkhalhe and Captain Sabestine Zabethe.

In March this year Mnangagwa told local journalists the military was looking for arms, but was struggling to acquire them because of the arms embargo applied by Western nations in 2002. He was denying that Zimbabwe was supplying arms to the Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo.

In April 2011, dockworkers in Beira, Mozambique, identified two containers unloaded from a China Ocean Shipping Company vessel as containing arms. The consignment, apparently containing AK-47 ammunition mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades, was addressed to Abaxis Enterprises, a company owned by Neville Mutsvangwa, son of a Zanu-PF official and former ambassador to China, The Southern Africa Report says. After Mozambican trade unionists informed their counterparts in Harare, the containers were reportedly never collected.

China is Zimbabwe’s leading arms supplier, providing at least US$66 million worth of small arms during Zimbabwe’s involvement in the civil war in the DRC (1998-2002). Since 2004 China has sold to Zimbabwe 139 military vehicles and 24 combat aircraft.

However, Zimbabwe sometimes struggles to take delivery of weapons due to sanctions. In 2008 South Africa prevented delivery of six containers of small arms and equipment when they stopped the China Ocean Shipping Company’s vessel An Yue Jiang from unloading in Durban. The weapons on board were shipped by Poly Technologies Incorporated of China.

According to the International Peace Information Service (IPIS), a Belgian research hub, in August 2008, 53 tons of ammunition were allegedly flown from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Harare. The ammunition was flown by Enterprise World Airways, aboard a Boeing 707-3B4C aircraft registered as 9Q-CRM.

The first shipment on August 21 contained 32 tons of 7.62mmx54 cartridges. Two days later a second shipment arrived, containing 20 tons of 7.62mmx39 cartridges, which are used in AK-47s. The ammunition arrived in Zimbabwe four months after the arms shipment was turned away at Durban, only to be flown into the country later from Angola, the report claimed.

Despite denials from Luanda and Beijing, an employee of the state-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industry (ZDI) in Harare told IPIS that the shipment, which contained mortar bombs, rockets and ammunition, had arrived in the country.
“The most prominent supplier of arms to Zimbabwe has been China, which supplied more than one-third of the volume of Zimbabwe’s major weapons between 1980 and 2009,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has said.

The Institute said that China supplied 100 Dongfeng military vehicles to Zimbabwe via the Mozambican port of Beira in early 2005.

China is also building a military college in Zimbabwe. Chinese company Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company is building the National Defence College in Harare. Construction began last year and expected to be complete in five years time.

In July 2008 the UK and the USA tabled a draft UN Security Council resolution to impose targeted sanctions on [Presidet Robert] Mugabe’s government, including an arms embargo in response to the serious human rights violations and political violence that accompanied the 2008 elections. China and Russia vetoed the draft resolution, while South Africa, Libya and Vietnam also voted against the resolution.

China and Russia justified the use of their vetoes by saying that Zimbabwe was not a threat to international peace, that Russia and China had policies of non-interference, that diplomatic talks could break down following sanctions and that the African Union and the Southern African Development Community, had not pushed for UN sanctions.