The Pelindaba Treaty

Amir Bashti
April 21, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Pelindaba Nuclear Power Plant, South Africa. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On 11 April 1996, the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone was established with the signing of the Pelindaba Treaty by the continental African states in Cairo. [1] The historic feat was the fourth of its kind in establishing a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ), coming after the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959, the 1967 Tlatelolco Treaty for Latin American and Caribbean states and the 1986 Rarotonga Treaty in the South Pacific. [2] The process of establishing the African NWFZ started as early as 1960, after the first French Nuclear Weapon test above ground in the Sahara desert. [3] In the immediate aftermath, per the backing of the Organizaiton of African Unity (OAU), The U.N. General Assembly called on member states to not test, store, or transport nuclear weapons in Africa. [3] The prospects of an African NWFZ were bleak until South Africa, the only African state possessing nuclear weapons technology, eliminated their nuclear arsenal and acceded to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1991. [3] The Pelindaba nuclear research center (see Fig. 1) located near Pretoria, South Africa, had produced 6 nuclear weapons when President Frederik W. De Klerk disarmed the nuclear weapons program post-Cold War in 1990 upon taking office. [4] The six total bombs were gun-type ballistics consisting of roughly 55 kg of 80% HEU at the core with an explosive yield of 10-18 kT range, weighing close to 1000 kg, with a diameter of 65 cm and measuring 1.8 m in length making them suitable to be delivered by bomber aircraft. [4] After this considerable threat to the African NWFZ was eliminated, the Pelindaba treaty talks accelerated. The first meeting of experts comprised from various subregions of Africa, the OAU, UN, IAEA, NWS, and representatives of the similar Rarotonga and Tlatelolco treaties took place in 1991 in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia. [1] In the summer of 1995, the sixth and final meeting of experts produced the final treaty document in Pelindaba. [1]


The Pelindaba Treaty established the ANWFZ through prohibiting the manufacture, testing, stockpiling, research, development, acquisition, possession, and control of any nuclear explosive device of any form by the signatory parties comprising the African continental states. [3] All nuclear weapons programs pre-dating the treaty must be disarmed or converted for peaceful use. [3] The dumping of radioactive wastes is also prohibited. [3] The Treaty promotes the development of peaceful nuclear energy programs in alignment with the NPT and IAEA standards. [2]


In line with the NPT, the signatory states are obliged to comply with IAEA safeguards to verify that states are pursuing peaceful nuclear energy programs and not developing nuclear explosive devices. [1] The signatory states are also obliged to comply with the IAEA security guidelines to protect nuclear development sites from attacks. [2] The African Comission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE) was established as the continental managing body of the Pelindaba treaty. [1] Its duties mostly comprise collecting reports from signatory states to ensure compliance and enforcing its implementation. [1] The Pelindaba treaty embodies a unified, continental effort to harness nuclear energy responsibly and peacefully. The Middle East, Korean Peninsula, South Asia, Europe, and American regions can also benefit from studying and emulating this regional NWFZ role model. As we pursue global disarmament in alignment with the NPT, it is the NWS responsibility to disarm like South Africa did in order to accelerate the process in realizing the goal of a nuclear free world.

© Amir Bashti. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Ogunbanwo, "The Treaty of Pelindaba: Africa is Nuclear-Weapon Free," Security Dialogue 27, 185 (1996).

[2] D. Fischer, "Pelindaba Treaty: Africa Joins the Nuclear-Free World," Arms Control Today 25, No. 10, 9 (1996).

[3] J. Goldblat, "Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones: A History and Assessment," Nonproliferation Review 4, No. 3, 18 (Spring-Summer 1997).

[4] P. Baxevanis, "The Nuclear Weapons Program of South Africa," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2013.