South Africa should not be considering a sale of Denel to a murderous Saudi despot

In the middle of the brewing storm surrounding the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi, South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, announced on 11 October 2018 that South Africa had been approached by Saudi Arabia about purchasing a stake in the state-owned defence firm Denel.

The Minister noted that the outcome of negotiations would be scrutinised by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, which will consider, amongst other things, the human rights implications of the deal.

That there are negotiations to consider this at all is an indictment of the approach of the Ramaphosa government to international human rights violations. Neither the President nor the Minister should require a committee report to know that putting our state defence firm at the disposal of a murderous despot would make the whole nation complicit in the human rights atrocities of the regime of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

All over the world governments are condemning the presumed torture and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, after he was lured to a Saudi consulate in Turkey. Private companies, the United States Treasury Secretary and senior French and British ministers pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative which is being held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Rather than adding our voice to the growing international consensus, a DIRCO statement released last week Wednesday, together with comments from the Spokesperson to Minister Sisulu reported in the Mail & Guardian, paints a clear picture that the priority of the South African government is the investment ties championed by President Ramaphosa earlier this year when he visited Saudi Arabia.

This is the same logic that underlies President Donald Trump’s widely criticised failure to condemn this Saudi assault on human rights and press freedom.

The devastating consequences of prioritising money over human rights ought to be foremost in the President’s mind following the Marikana Massacre during his time as a non-executive director at Lonmin.

We call on the President to end any possibility that South African arms and defence technology could be used by Saudi Arabia to perpetrate atrocities against their own nationals as well as civilians in neighbouring states like Yemen.

We ask the President to re-establish South Africa as a voice with moral authority and a respected record of protecting human rights domestically and internationally.

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