South Africa is blocking arms sales to countries including Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an inspections dispute, endangering billions of dollars of business and thousands of jobs in its struggling defence sector, according to industry officials, Reuters reports.
The dispute centres on a clause in export documents that requires foreign customers to pledge not to transfer weapons to third parties and to allow South African officials to inspect their facilities to verify compliance, according to the four officials as well as letters obtained by Reuters.
Officials at major South African defence groups Denel and Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) said the dispute was holding up their exports, as did a third big defence company which asked not to be named. RDM said some of its exports to the Middle East had not been approved since March.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which account for at least a third of South Africa's arms exports and are engaged in a war in Yemen, have rejected the inspections which they consider a violation of their sovereignty, the sources said.
Oman and Algeria have also refused inspections and seen their imports from South Africa blocked, the industry officials added.
Government officials in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Algeria did not respond to emails and phone calls from Reuters seeking comment, nor did their embassies in South Africa.
Asked about the inspection clause issue, Ezra Jele, South Africa's director for conventional arms control in the defence ministry, said that authorities considered criteria including human rights, regional conflict, risk of diversion, UN Security Council resolutions and national interest when evaluating applications for export permits.
He did not comment on specific cases.
The Aerospace, Maritime and Defence Industries Association of South Africa (AMD) says the dispute could threaten the sector's survival.
"We've got one clause that's disabling us from exporting 25 billion rand ($1.7 billion) worth of value today, right now," Simphiwe Hamilton, the head of the AMD, told Reuters.
The industry body estimates the export blocks put an additional 50 to 60 billion rand in future business at risk and could cause the loss of up to 9,000 jobs at defence firms and supporting industries.