Arms Embargo against Apartheid South Africa on


On August 7, 1963 the United Nations Security Council established a voluntary arms embargo against South Africa because of apartheid.  On November 4, 1977 the Security Council adopted a mandatory arms embargo.  The Carter administration, under pressure domestically and internationally, cast the U.S. vote in favor of the embargo.


The US vote for the mandatory arms embargo was in the context of increasingly visible movement inside South Africa in the wake of the 1976 Soweto uprising and the brutal South African government response.  That apartheid was a threat to peace was demonstrated the South Africa's continued illegal occupation of Namibia and military invasions of the Front Line States, especially Angola.  African governments were demanding that the Carter administration do something.  In the U.S. there was a dramatic increase in the anti-apartheid movement, especially on college campuses.


But U.S. government often did little to implement the embargo.  The regulations issued by President Carter banned all sales to the police, military, Department of Prisons and the Bureau of State Security.  When President Reagan came into office these restrictions were weakened allowing sales previously banned including the export of computers to the police and military under certain circumstances.  In 1985 Congress changed the regulations back to the language of the Carter administration.


There was often lax enforcement of the regulations implementing the embargo.  But in a number of cases, given the extent and nature of the violations, it seems likely that U.S. intelligence agencies had knowledge of the violations and did nothing to stop them and perhaps even encouraged them.


The American Committee on Africa and The Africa Fund worked to strengthen the arms embargo and its enforcement.  Below are some items from my work on this issue.


Richard Knight, March 2001


South Africa Link, New York Times, January 28, 1994.

The International Signal and Control case demonstrated the links, and possible involvement of U.S. intelligence agencies, in violations of the arms embargo.  This link contacts the letter to the editor from Richard Knight on behalf of The Africa Fund on the withdrawal of Bobby Ray Inman's nomination for Secretary of Defense and his ties to the company International Signal and Control, which illegally sold arms to apartheid South Africa in violation of U.S. law and the mandatory U.N arms embargo.


Shotguns and ammunition

This case demonstrated the lax enforcement of the arms embargo.  The Africa Fund learned of apparent sales of shotguns and ammunition to South Africa in violation of arms embargo and alerted both the State Department and the Commerce Department in November 1990.  In June 1991 The Africa Fund filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request with the Department of Commerce to get documents relating to the shipments.  The Africa Fund received from an anonymous source a series of internal U.S. government documents that revealed governmental incompetence in implementing the arms embargo and jurisdictional wrangling between Commerce and State regarding the investigation.


US Computers in South Africa by Richard Knight (Africa Fund, 1986)

This report includes information on the use of computers by the South Africa government for military apartheid enforcement activities and U.S. export regulations regarding sales to the South African police and military.  Includes profiles of computer companies doing business in South Africa.


Hearing on the Oil Embargo Against South Africa

Testimony of Richard Knight on behalf of the American Committee on Africa before the Intergovernmental Group to Monitor the Supply and Shipping of Oil and Petroleum Products to South Africa, April 1989.  Includes a discussion of the supply of petroleum produces to the police and military and U.S. export regulations.


Constructive Engagement and the Arms Embargo

Statement by Richard Knight on behalf of the American Committee on Africa before the Special Committee Against Apartheid of the United Nations General Assembly, April 1984.  This testimony documents how the Reagan policy of constructive engagement contributed to the arming of the apartheid regime.


Space Research Corporation

I have nothing to post at this time.  But this was a major case involving the supply of technology for a 155 mm mortar.  Also sold were shells that were actually made in U.S. munitions plants.  Dr. Gerald Bull, who was also chief scientist, headed the company.  Many questions about what the U.S. government knew about the end use of these shells have never been satisfactorily answered.  South Africa subsequently manufactured these motors and not only used them in its own wars against the front line states but and exported them to numerous countries.  There are reports that some South African exports of this weapon were made in exchange for oil.  Bull was convicted of violating the arms embargo against South Africa but only served about four months in prison.  After his release from prison, Bull moved to Brussels where he was assassinated in 1990.  Bull's assassination was not, apparently, because of his ties to South Africa.


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