From Medium. Story by Peter Dörrie.
It’s the most advanced defense industry you’ve probably never heard of. South Africa’s arms manufacturers produce high-tech weapons and vehicles that have little to do with crude Soviet-era weaponry common throughout the rest of the continent.
South Africa’s arms industry produces some of the best mine-resistant vehicles, modern guided weapons, secure communication technologies, aerospace components and its own attack helicopters.
…But Pretoria’s arms industry is recovering from more than 20 years of relative decline, beginning during apartheid and continuing over the following decades.
“In the process of developing its arms industry, it actually took the South African economy from being basically a mining and farming economy, to being an industrialized economy, including precision engineering and computer technology,” said Helmoed Heitman, an independent South African defense analyst.
The end of apartheid in 1994 marked a turning point for South Africa’s defense industry. Nelson Mandela, the head of the African National Congress and the country’s first black president, pushed to demilitarize the country’s foreign policy.
Many South Africans questioned whether it was worth supporting a huge military, which had for decades repressed liberation movements at home and elsewhere in Africa. Government spending moved away from internal security and the military—and toward economic development and social policies.
The fortunes of the embattled industry began to change toward the end of the 1990s with the South African Arms Deal.
But the South Africa military industry “is not in terribly good shape,” Heitman points out. “The armored vehicle industry did well out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And the guided missile people did well, because they make guided missiles that actually work and cost less than anybody else’s.”
Much of South Africa’s military hardware is getting old. At the same time, Pretoria’s military is more active than ever, contributing heavily to peacekeeping operations, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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