We should not underestimate the importance of the action taken by South African dockers against the Chinese vessel the An Yue Jiang, which had docked in the South African port of Durban’s carrying a cargo of seventy seven tonnes of weapons for Robert Mugabe government in Zimbabwe.
Despite the South African president Thabo Mbeki and his African National Congress (ANC) government decaring the seventy seven tonnes of weapons for the Mugabe government aboard the An Yue Jiang were legal cargo and would be transported 1000 miles overland northwards to Zimbabwe. The Durban dockers and port police refused to unload the cargo.
The South African government gave customs clearance for the weapons, which include more than three million rounds of AK-47 rifle ammunition, 1500 rocket-propelled grenades and more than 3000 mortar rounds and launchers. But Randall Howard, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu), to which the Durban dockers belong, warned: “As far as we are concerned, the containers will not be offloaded. The ship must return to China. If they the Mbeki government bring replacement labour to do the work, our members will not stand and look at them and smile.”
South Africa’s police trade union warned Mbeki, widely seen as sympathetic to Mugabe, against using policemen as “scab” labour.
“The dockers have good reasons for not offloading the ship,” said Benz Soko, spokesman for the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru). “We understand their objection.”
South Africa is seen as the one country that could bring the Mugabe government to its knees and force it to hold truly free and fair elections that could see opposition movements take power. They would be faced with reconstructing a country with 1650% inflation, 82% unemployment and the world’s lowest life expectancy among women – 34 years, against nearly 60 at independence in 1980.*
The An Yue Jiang eventually left the port of Durban with its cargo of arms intact in its hold, its whereabouts is currently not known. The Mozambiquen and Angolian governments followed the example set by the South African dockers and refused the ship entry into their ports. If the An Yue Jiang is unable to find a port in southern Africa to offload its consignment of Chinese weapons and ammunition for onward transport to Zimbabwe it is thought the Chinese government will order it to return home.
The refusal of the SA dockers and police to unload the vessal may yet come to be seen as a turning point in the struggle to bring an end to the 29 year Mugabe regime; and will come to be regarded as immeasurably more important than all the huffing and puffing by so-called world leaders and news media.*
* Additional information from Tim O.