Despite efforts by South Africa’s well-developed arms industry and its government to position the country as a key supplier of arms to African countries, exports to sub-Saharan African destinations do not account for a significant share of South African arms exports. The driving force of South African arms exports to sub-Saharan destinations appears to be maximizing turnover for the industry and earnings from the sale of surplus equipment.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994 South Africa has developed export policies, regulations and guidelines aimed at preventing arms exports that could fuel conflict or support human rights abuses. However, doubts persist about the functioning of this system. Like other countries, South Africa still allows questionable arms transfers to zones of conflict and to countries where arms are used in human rights violations. In general, South Africa’s export policy seems to be mainly a matter of abiding by United Nations arms embargoes with few other restrictions.
A positive development in 2010 is that, after several years of not publishing arms export reports, South Africa has returned to a level of public transparency about its arms export policy, which provides some opportunities for parliamentary and public accountability. Hopefully, recent changes in the legislation will not mean a return to opacity in reporting.
This paper is one of a series produced for the SIPRI Project on Monitoring Arms Flows to Africa and Assessing the Practical Regional and National Challenges and Possibilities for a Relevant and Functioning Arms Trade Treaty. The project is funded by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The other background papers in the series are:
Israeli arms supplies to sub-Saharan Africa, Siemon T. Wezeman, October 2011
Arms transfers to Zimbabwe: implications for an arms trade treaty, Lukas Jeuck, March 2011
Ukrainian arms supplies to sub-Saharan Africa, Paul Holtom, February 2011
Arms flows and the conflict in Somalia, Pieter D. Wezeman, October 2010
The final report of the project is
Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, SIPRI Policy Paper no. 30, Pieter D. Wezeman, Siemon T. Wezeman and Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, December 2011
About the author
Pieter D. Wezeman (Netherlands) is a Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme. He rejoined SIPRI in 2006, having previously worked at the institute from 1994 to 2003. From 2003 to 2006 he was a Senior Analyst for the Dutch Ministry of Defence in the field of proliferation of conventional and nuclear weapon technology.