Arms ban hits security forces

Shakeman Mugari

EUROPEAN sanctions on Zimbabwe have begun to take their toll on the country’s defence system, with revelations this week that Zimbabwe’s security forces are phasing out machinery manufactured

in European Union states, the Zimbabwe Independent has established.


The Independent heard that the army and the police have begun to phase out vehicles, planes, guns and other military hardware manufactured in Europe as the country cannot obtain spare parts under the sanctions regime. Parliament heard last month that there was a need to engage dependable suppliers “in the face of crippling sanctions by erstwhile suppliers like the United Kingdom”.


Before the diplomatic fall-out Zimbabwe received British-manufactured Hawk fighter/trainer planes, bombs and missiles. These planes are no longer in use after Britain imposed an arms embargo two years ago barring Zimbabwe from receiving any military assistance from the UK. Government is mulling the purchase of aircraft and other equipment from China, one of Zimbabwe’s most trusted allies, according to a parliamentary report.


The Independent has also established that the famous police Land Rover Defender trucks which were supplied under a bilateral agreement with Britain are also being phased out.


That arrangement is now on ice after Zimbabwe fell out with Britain over human rights abuses. Most of the Defender trucks have since ground to a halt as the police cannot obtain spare parts from Britain.


The ZRP has since last year been purchasing Mazda pick-up trucks to replace the Land Rovers.


ZRP spokesman, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena last week said the purchase of new vehicles had nothing to do with sanctions.


“The phasing out has nothing to do with sanctions,” said Bvudzijena, “In fact the sanctions are coming when the Defenders are nearing the end of their lifespan. Whether there are sanctions or not it won’t dent our operations.


“Just like what happened with the Santana, the Defender is being phased out due to age. Our fleet is between three and five years old and we should realise that the vehicles are operating 24 hours a day.”


However, dealers who service Land Rover Defenders said the vehicle has an average lifespan of 10 years. Many are in service much longer.


The Independent also heard that the army was struggling to service Acmat and Steyr troop carriers purchased from France and Austria respectively. The first delivery of the trucks was around 1998.


However, ZDF spokesperson Col Ben Ncube disputed that sanctions were affecting the armed forces.


“The Hawks were affected way back when we were in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Ncube. “It has nothing to do with the sanctions. It is not even a new issue to Zimbabweans. How is that news?”


Ncube said the current fleet of troop carriers purchased from Europe was still operational.


“All we can say is that the Steyr and Acmat are still functioning and we are happy with them,” said Ncube.


Asked whether sanctions had affected the ZDF in any way, he declined to comment saying it was not a public issue.


The ZDF has also resolved to phase out British-manufactured minor accessories such as radios and photographic equipment.


So far ZDF has acquired a new fleet of Mazda T35 three-tonne trucks from Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries. Ncube however said these were not replacements for military vehicles.


“The T35s are not a replacement of the current fleet, they are just an administrative vehicle. They are certainly not for carrying troops,” he said.

An official at Willowvale Mazda Motor Industries confirmed that the police and the army had acquired a number of Mazda B1800 (LWB) vehicles. Since November last year government orders accounted for about 38% of Willowvale’s vehicle sales, said the official.


Police currently have about 1 500 vehicles but need more than 7 000 to operate efficiently.


Military sources this week said Zimbabwe used to get helicopter spare parts from Italy. The EU slapped Zimbabwe with an arms embargo in 2002. The sanctions effectively prevented Zimbabwe from receiving any military aid from EU countries.


In December the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs after its tour of defence installations and barracks around the country concluded that Zimbabwe needed to look elsewhere for military equipment.


The report exposed the effects of the sanctions on functions of European-made aircraft, vehicles and ammunition. The committee, under the chairmanship of Zanu PF Mt Darwin MP Saviour Kasukuwere, admitted in its report that sanctions had adversely affected the security forces.


The report “noted the need for the Airforce of Zimbabwe to engage dependable suppliers of equipment in the face of crippling sanctions by erstwhile suppliers like the United Kingdom which has seen a number of aircraft grounded due to lack of spares,” Kasukuwere told parliament last month.


As a follow-up to the report, Kasukuwere together with MDC Mutare MP Jairos Mutsekwa of the same committee visited China on a sponsored trip to learn about the country’s military industry.


The three-member delegation was in China for five days. Kasukuwere said in his report to parliament the tour “highlighted the kind of technology that Zimbabwe could import for the use of defence forces”.

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