Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

South Africa awash with guns for hire

The arrest of suspected mercenaries in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea has fingers pointing at South Africa, battling to shed its image as the biggest supplier of dogs of war. The toppling of apartheid white rule in 1994 ended South Africa's years of military confrontation with its black neighbours but left a large pool of trained soldiers available as hired guns from Sierra Leone to Iraq. These days private military companies, as the guns for hire groups prefer to be known, can be found around the world, recruiting former special forces soldiers and increasingly opening offices in Eastern Europe. Intelligence and security sources in Johannesburg say more than 1000 South African former military personnel are employed in all manner of security duties in Iraq, some working for the United Nations. High pay, which contrasts with South Africa's pay for police and security work, is part of the attraction.