South African Union Refuses to Unload Arms Bound for Zimbabwe

On April 17, SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), South Africa's largest transport workers' union, announced that its members would not unload a shipment of arms from China that was docked in Durban and destined for Zimbabwe.

Violence has been increasing in Zimbabwe as the current government, under President Robert Mugabe, continues to delay releasing the results of the March 29 presidential elections - which the opposition claims to have won.

SATAWU general secretary Randall Howard said, " SATAWU does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons. Our members employed at Durban container terminal will not unload this cargo, neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road."

Their decision was met by strong support from church organizations, unions and other activist groups. Many hope South African President Thabo Mbeki might be forced to take a stronger stance in relation to Mugabe and pressure him to release the election results.

While the South African government challenged the union's position, a court order in the activists' favor was issued on April 18, preventing the shipment from being transported overland to Zimbabwe and thereby forcing it to leave.

The union's action has inspired support and solidarity both regionally and internationally, drawing the world's attention to the crisis in Zimbabwe. Avaaz (a global, web-based activist network) joined forces with a global coalition including Oxfam, Amnesty International, and other groups to build support for the movement started by SATAWU. They initiated an international petition campaign and flew a giant banner over the United Nations headquarters as South African President Thabo Mbeki chaired a meeting of the Security Council.

Having been turned away from South Africa, the ship headed for Angola in the hope of docking there, according to Mozambique's transport minister. Mozambique refused to allow it to enter its waters.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa publicly urged other states to follow suit and deny the ship entry into their waters in an effort to increase pressure on Mugabe and stem the violence.

As we go to print, it looks like China may decide to recall the shipment. "As Zimbabwe could not receive the cargo as scheduled, China Ocean Shipping Corp had to give up the Durban port and is now considering carrying back this cargo," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
-Jessica Maxwell