Defence minister Charles Nqakula says a set of unanswered questions is preventing Cabinet from deciding the question of South Africa’s participation in counter-piracy operations “one way or the other.”
Nqakula was answering media questions at a press conference on the sidelines of the SA Nay`s 3rd Sea Power for Africa symposium.
“It is true there is a discussion in Cabinet about this. The problem with governance is that you do not get all the answers you require for action … all the time … as speedily as possible.
“There are a number of outstanding questions with respect to this particular matter and the consequence is that in the absence of the answers we are expecting we are unable to decide this matter one way or another. It is therefore still with cabinet awaiting those answers to the questions we have posed.”
He would not say to whom the questions had been posed or what the questions are. The minister would also not elaborate on when the questions would be answered.
“It won`t be correct to state what the questions are or to whom they have been posed,” he said.
“As SA we need to have an understanding what our role will be so that we can go to Parliament because every time we have to deploy, we must get authorisation in terms of our law. Now, we can`t go to Parliament with a case that is not watertight. This is what we are preparing for.”
Observers at the conference have noted that 23 countries – none of them African – have pledged or deployed ships to patrol the Gulf of Aden and adjacent waters
, where well over a hundred incidents of piracy were reported last year.
Pirates, mostly operating from lawless Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, hijacked ships and extracted millions of US dollars as ransom from ship owners. In addition, hundreds of sailors were taken hostage and several murdered, with scores injured in pirate attacks that have also pushed up maritime insurance premiums and forced ships to round the Cape to Europe or Asia rather than use the Suez Canal and Red Sea. This has, in turn, pushed up consumer prices, also in Africa.
The SA Navy has on a number of occasions declared itself ready and able to show the flag and has briefed Cabinet accordingly. But a source says they received a cold audience and were told not to presume to dictate foreign policy to Cabinet either directly or through the media.
SA is one of a handful of African states that have the capacity and legislative framework to respond. Section 24 of the Defence Act of 2002 allows the SANDF to arrest pirates on the High Seas and bring them before the country`s courts. In addition, Section 10 of the nation`s antiterrorist law, the Protection of Constitutional Democracy against Terrorist and Related Activities Act of 2004, outlaws the hijacking of ships.
The act is also extraterritorial in jurisdiction.
No-one at the symposium has been able to explain the slow haste Cabinet is making.