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South African Arms Supplies to Sub-Saharan Africa

Publisher: SIPRI
January, 2011

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.

Related publications

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:

Holtom, P., 'Ukrainian Arms Supplies to Sub-Saharan Africa', SIPRI Background Paper, Feb. 2011.

Jeuck, L., 'Arms Transfers to Zimbabwe: Implications for an Arms Trade Treaty', SIPRI Background Paper, Mar. 2011.

Wezeman, P. D., 'Arms Flows and the Conflict in Somalia', SIPRI Background Paper, Oct. 2010.

Wezeman, S. T., 'Israeli Arms Supplies to Sub-Saharan Africa', SIPRI Background Paper, Oct. 2011.

The final report of the project is

Wezeman, P. D., Wezeman, S. T. and Béraud-Sudreau, L., Arms Flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, SIPRI Policy Paper no. 30 (SIPRI: Stockholm, Dec. 2011).


Pieter D. Wezeman is a Senior Researcher in the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.