Canada’s Space Research Corporation illegally exports arms to South Africa via Antigua

In 1977 a Canadian company named Space Research Corporation, was based in Barbados, run by Gerald Bull, whose specialty was developing a better howitzer artillery shell. He also had worked for a McGill University project called HARP, the High Altitude Research Project, which was trying to develop a howitzer shell to be used as the first stage of a rocket to launch small satellites. The shell would reach its apogee and then launch a second rocket which would put a small satellite on its nose into orbit. They had a test gun to do this in Barbados as well as a site on the Vermont Quebec border. They used the radar system, I think at the Barbados airport, to track the apogee and height of each test shell. They moved this operation to the island of Antigua sometime around 1976.

In 1977 a high school principal in Antigua, Tim Hector, also leader of the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement, published the fact that a worker at the Antigua port, Mottley White, had just brought him a live howitzer shell from a Space Research container which accidentally fell on the dock and broke open as it was being loaded into a South African boat called the Tugelaland. The captain of the Tegulaland told White that his boat was going to South Africa not Canada as claimed in the bill of lading. Canada’s national broadcaster, CBC, did an exposé on their Fifth Estate programme, of Canada's violation of the international embargo on arms shipments to South Africa. The story was also picked up by the BBC's Panorama program.

When South Africa invaded southern Angola in 1974 in support of Savimbi’s UNITA and the CIA's efforts to overthrow the MPLA government, they were stopped by Angolan and Cuban troops, partly because the Russian "Stalin Organ" rocket launchers used by Cuba had a range advantage over the best Western artillery guns. They were able to sit back outside that Western howitzer range and pound South Africa and Savimbi back into then South African controlled Namibia. Gerald Bull through Space Research in reality was trying to develop a howitzer shell to overcome this disadvantage and was shipping them to South Africa from Antigua and sometimes via Israel.

This was a beginning of the end of that particularly complex southern Africa liberation struggle. In the ongoing Angolan civil war, the reduction of Western support for white South Africa and the late 1980s collapse of the Soviet Union, and therefore its military support for leftist liberation forces, eventually led to white South African negotiations with the ANC and Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election as President of South Africa.

The exposure of this violation of the arms embargo was one element of many, forcing white South Africa to eventually realize it could not maintain apartheid militarily or diplomatically, and a decade later drove them to begin negotiations with the ANC and Nelson Mandela.

These events are documented in two pdf files available here at:

Space Research Dossier 1975-1979

CISO SRC May 1980

CIA Memo re Space Research 1979