There was a time, not too long ago, when an AK47 rifle could be obtained quite easily for just R100. A single round for this awesome assault rifle cost just 30 cents. The price determined by the free availability of these weapons as the war in Mozambique subsided and huge caches of arms were freed up for a cross border trade in weapons providing criminal elements with a cheap supply of firepower.
Today, if you can find one as a relic from a past African conflict, an AK47 will cost in excess of R3000 and a single round R35, testimony to the success of cross border co-operation between the South African and Mozambique governments in their efforts to stamp out the cross border trade in weapons and cross border crime. A key to this success has been operation Rachel, an ongoing joint operation between the South African Police Service, its Mozambique counterpart and supported by Isuzu.
Isuzu first became involved in Operation Rachel in 1999 when the SAPS Task Force adopted a new, more mobile, approach to the operation as the operating environment became safe enough to move away from the use of cumbersome armoured vehicles. The problem facing the programme was a supply of dedicated vehicles for short term use for the operation. Isuzu stepped into the viod to offer the required vehicles on loan and has remained involved as the vehicle supplier in support of Operation Rachel since that time. This year (2006) marked the eighth anniversary of this collaboration.
Operation Rachel began in 1995 shortly after an accord was reached between then President Nelson Mandela and President Joachim Chissano, of Mozambique. Both realised that a significant contribution to the stability of the region would be made by eliminating the vast arms caches that had been built up during the civil war in Mozambique.
“One has to realise that during the final desperate stages of that war planeloads of weapons were being dropped for each side,” says Assistant Commissioner Mike Fryer, head of the SAPS Task Force in charge of Operation Rachel. “The result was a huge build up of weapons with many weapons simply buried were they landed in caches for use when the need arose.
“When the war ended and the various forces were decommissioned and disarmed these caches remained available and were seen as an economic resource by people left starving in the wake of the war. Criminal elements in South Africa provided a ready market for these weapons and a brisk trade developed. We realised that we had to stop the flow of these weapons at source if we were to start getting a handle on crime. We had to have an intelligence driven operation that the local population would in time buy into if we were to make any impact on the vast store of weapons hidden in Mozambique.
“To date we have had 27 operations into Mozambique under the banner of Operation Rachel,” says Mike Fryer. During those operations we have destroyed more than
40 000 small arms including rifles and hand guns, millions of rounds of ammunition, more than 12 000 mortar bombs and 13 500 rockets together with a host of hand grenades, mines and other ordinance.
“Each operation typically involves around 20 people from the SAPS Task Force, including a pilot and flight engineer to provide air support with a helicopter. The Mozambique police force provides between 15 and 20 members to assist.
“2005 was a significant year for Operation Rachel as it marked the first time that the operation included a group of trainees from the SARPCCO (Southern African Regional Police Chief Council Organisation), the international police organisation of SADEC. This group of 25 trainees was drawn from SARPCCO countries other than South Africa and Mozambique and was given thorough training in South Africa. This training was provided for a SARPCCO group again in 2006. This initiative will dramatically assist in increasing arms clearing resources across the African continent.”
Isuzu’s contribution is part of an annual funding requirement for the operation of almost R2 million. Past contributors include the European Union, and the Belgian Government. Since 2003 SaferAfrica, a South African based NGO, has been instrumental in sourcing funds from the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office.