The row that led to the formation of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee - to prevent South African-made weapons being used ever again in a genocide.
It was a story which nearly didn’t see the light of day: a loss by Natal in the Super 10 rugby series on May 14, 1994, meant the Durban newspaper I worked for, the Sunday Tribune, was suddenly denied a lead story for the following day.
“Where the hell is Rwanda?” was apparently the question asked by a sub-editor when looking at my story about South African-made R4 automatic rifles being used to kill thousands of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
The rifles, in the hands of Hutu members of the national army, had been sold to the country by SA’s state-owned weapons company, Armscor, in 1992.
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The order included 10 000 hand grenades, 20 000 rifle grenades, 10 000 other explosive devices and more than one million rounds of ammunition.
The killings in Rwanda had not much interested South Africans, who had just seen their first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, installed at Union Buildings.
With 10 years’ reporting experience in Africa, though, I had been following events. On the night of 6 April, 1994, a plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi – both Hutus – was shot down, killing everyone on board.
That spurred a horrendous revenge within Rwanda, where the military led the 100-day blood-letting targeting Tutsis. Although, as neighbours turned on neighbours and knives, clubs and machetes were the weapons of choice for the murderers, the SA-supplied rifles accounted for a significant number of the estimated 800 000 dead.
I noticed a wire service photo of a Rwandan soldier carrying what looked like a South African R4 assault rifle. I started asking questions and got confirmation of the export order.
Hitherto, finding details of SA arms exports was almost impossible under the secrecy of the apartheid era but Armscor, and some of my sources, were much more forthcoming.
When my story appeared, there was outrage. One of the direct results of the row was the formation of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, set up to avoid exactly the situation in Rwanda …preventing South African-made weapons being used ever again in a genocide.