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Conventional Arms Control

The Preamble (i.e. introduction) to the National Conventional Arms Control Act 20021 gives, as one of its premises, the assurance that the Republic is ‘a responsible member of the international community and will not trade in conventional arms with states engaged in repression, aggression or terrorism’. The cynic might well wonder who our trading partners are, then, because there seems to be a fair amount of repression, and/or aggression, and/or terrorism in these days.

In any event the Act, which falls under the authority of the Minister of Defence, is designed to regulate and monitor trade in arms; to ensure compliance with government policy; to ensure transparency, and to foster national and international confidence in the control procedures.

The Act establishes a National Conventional Arms Control Committee and it, for all intents and purposes, is responsible for the effective implementation and administration of the Act.

In turn, the Minister also establishes an Inspectorate, which is accountable only to the Secretariat. Its function is to ensure that trade in and possession of ‘controlled items’ is conducted in compliance with the Act, and that the internal regulatory processes of the Committee are complied with. They have extensive powers of entry, search, interrogation, seizure, etc.

A. Controlled items

‘Controlled items’ are what the Act is all about. There are several categories promulgated2 and they range from fighter aircraft to submarines to pistols to radar to antipersonnel mines; and, last but not least, all manufacturing and testing equipment and facilities are included.3

  1. It is a crime to trade in controlled items if you are not registered with the Secretariat of the Committee, and you are in possession of a permit authorised by the Committee (and which is issued by the Secretariat).4

  2. It is a crime to possess controlled items if you are not similarly registered and have the necessary permit.5 6

  3. Any person who fails to comply with or contravenes any specification or condition endorsed in his permit commits a criminal offence.7

  4. The same applies to endorsements in end-user certificates. (This is where controlled items are to be exported, and undertakings must be given concerning (non) re-export, and concerning their (non) use in weapons of mass destruction.)8

  5. If you try and transfer a permit, you will be guilty of a criminal offence.9

  6. Any person who trades in controlled items can be required (by the Committee or one of its subcommittees, or inspectors) to furnish certain specified information. It is an offence to fail or refuse to comply with such a request.10

  7. It is an offence to furnish false information in response to such a request.11

B. The Committee and Inspectorate

  1. It is a crime to disclose any information concerning the business of the Committee except as is legally required.12 13

  2. Any person who hinders or obstructs any inspector in the performance of his functions under the Act commits a criminal offence.14

  3. If you knowingly make any false statement, concerning anything regulated by the Act, to the Committee, the Inspectorate, or any of their members (i.e. a ‘competent authority’) your are guilty of an offence.15

  4. If you refuse, or fail to comply with any lawful request of a competent authority, you are guilty of an offence.16

  5. Should you be so daring as to pretend to be an official of, or someone authorised by, a competent authority, you will find yourself with a criminal charge against you.17

  6. If you actually happen to be a member of the Committee, or of a subcommittee, or the secretariat, or any inspector, you will be guilty of an offence if you have any financial or other interest in any matter which could conflict with the performance of your duties, and you do not disclose it as soon as you become aware of the position.18

  1. As amended by Act 73 of 2008, which came into force on 16 April 2012. 

  2. See Regulation 16 in Government Notice R326 of 20 April 2012. 

  3. Interestingly, technology and know-how is not included. It is likely dealt with elsewhere. 

  4. Section 24(1)(a) read with section 13(1). 

  5. Excluded from this prohibition are a number of things: firearms, ammunition, explosives, radio apparatus, and nuclear material if possessed lawfully according to specific statutes and their authorization provisions; and in certain other cases such as necessity for security services, or emergency repairs. See section 13(2) of the Act. 

  6. Section 24(1)(a) read with section 13(1). 

  7. Section 24(1)(b) read with section 14. 

  8. Section 24(1)(b) read with section 17. 

  9. Section 24(1)(i). 

  10. Section 24(1)(c) read with section 22. 

  11. Section 24(1)(c) read with section 22. 

  12. See Section 23(6) of the Act for the specific exemptions. 

  13. Section 24(1)(d) read with section 23(6). 

  14. Section 24(1)(e). 

  15. Section 24(1)(f). 

  16. Section 24(1)(h). 

  17. Section 24(1)(g). 

  18. Section 24(1)(j).