South Africa and Iran: Sweet Weapon Deal

By Scott Morgan

In late March 2017 it was revealed that South Africa was seeking to sell arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The proposed deal estimated to be worth R 1.5 Billion or roughly $118 Million USD. It would amount to being the largest sale ever made by the defense firm Denel. This highlights the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) signed between the Defense Ministers in December 2016.

The proposed transfer would be of surface-to-air missiles that were designed to be launched from frigates. This would give the Iranian Air Force a new way to defend the country from an expected air attack from either the United States or Israel. This purchase suggests that - after a change of Administrations in Washington - the Iranians are expecting a possible military action.

This is not the first interaction between the two countries. Back in 2012, the telecom company MTN was accused of selling or even giving technology to Iran. This was part of a huge scandal that had the company accused of bribery to undercut the awarding of this contract to a rival, access to sophisticated weapons among other issues. This was an interesting way for Iran to skirt the sanctions regime currently in place. There are even suggestions that during the Iran-Iraq war, back in the 1980s, South Africa sent Technology to Iran in exchange for oil. A 2010 report by Al-Jazeera documented how Iran was using South Africa as a conduit to acquire technology to circumvent the sanctions against their Nuclear Program.

Another black eye suffered by the Zuma Administration occurred back on March 24, 2013 during the ill-fated intervention in the early days of the Crisis in the Central African Republic. A force of South African Soldiers were ambushed outside their base in Bangui. Thirteen soldiers were killed, 27 wounded and one was missing. A Seleka commander accused the South Africans of acting as mercenaries for then President Fran├žois Bozize. Government forces were later defeated by the Insurgents.

This also highlights another concern about the Presidency of Jacob Zuma: it is not the first time during his rule that he has supported - what is considered to be - a rogue state. The efforts for South Africa’s attempt to withdraw from the International Criminal Court began after a highly controversial visit by Sudanese President Omar Bashir. A Court in South Africa felt that the Government failed in its obligation as a signatory to the Rome Statute to arrest Bashir and transport him to The Hague.

It is surprising to see that the main Opposition Party (the Democratic Alliance) has not used any of these concerns when they drew up their No Confidence Motions in Parliament. They have used the controversy over the Bashir visit in recent attempts. The latest moves regarding the revolving door at the Finance Ministry and the downgrading of South African Bonds to junk status by Standard’s & Poors are expected to bring up a new motion. This may occur after Moody’s decides what status they will give to South African Bonds. If they are relegated to Junk Bond Status as well that will be a blow to the leadership of President Zuma.

Iran has been using various means to project soft power around the world. The relationship with South Africa shows how much a covert program can succeed.

(Image: Presidents Zuma and Rouhani [Ed.] - Google Images)

[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]


  1. What are we waiting for to go after the South Africans then?

  2. Hi Morgan,

    Great post. I am right now following the Iranian connection in Africa because there are strong possibilities that they have been buying Israeli weapons in the continent, which will eventually be used against the Jewish State. The present South African government is criminal and they should be on the free world's radar. As we speak, all the corrupt elements from African nations are buying houses there, why?

    Good job.

  3. Iran has been operating all over Africa, using African countries to buy weapons on their behalf. I wonder whether the weapon transfer is done in South Africa or elsewhere...


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