Publication:Cape Argus Issued: Date: 2003-03-27 Reporter: Helen Suzman Foundation

The Arms Deal for Dummies



Cape Argus

Date 2003-03-27


Helen Suzman Foundation

Web Link

What is the arms deal?

In 1996 the Department of Defence published a white paper in which it noted that there was "no discernable foreign military threat" to South Africa and that issues of poverty demanded priority over military spending.

In 1998, a defence review was done. In November that year, the Department of Defence announced a list of preferred suppliers of armaments and equipment. It said South Africa was going to spend R29.8 billion on arms.

What was on the shopping list?

Who are the suppliers?

What will South Africa get out of it?

The government claims the arms deal will generate R104bn and 65 000 jobs.

The government said local arms manufacturers would earn more than R4bn through sub-contracts.

Former chairman of the public accounts committee Gavin Woods said that many of these offsets could only be "pie in the sky".

Trade and Industry minister Alec Erwin said that the job creation promised by the arms deal was "fairly realistic".

Economists Allied for Arms Reduction (Ecaar) spokesman Terry Crawford-Browne said that offset business promised as a sweetener for the deal could be nothing more than a scam by arms dealers.

He said the taxpayer could be left to foot the bill which was likely to escalate far beyond initial estimates. He said that, by 2010, the projected costs of the deal could be R151.2bn.

Idasa said the deal held adverse financial implications for the country even under a best-case scenario: "It if is possible, by spending R29.9bn to achieve economic benefits of R104bn," the Idasa report asked, "why does every developing country in the world not spend its entire budget on arms? The answer seems to lie in the fact that off-sets are an internationally discredited manner of promoting arms transactions."

Who are the main players?

President Thabo Mbeki : He claimed that opposition to the arms deal was racist. He barred former Judge Willem Heath from the probe into allegations about the arms deal. He referred to organograms drawn up by Cape Town journalist Martin Welz as being part of Heath's plot to discredit the government.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel : He signed the foreign loan agreements and has accused the public accounts committee of not understanding the arms deal.

Speaker of parliament Frene Ginwala : She holds certain documents to which the public and members of parliament do not have access.

Advocate Willem Heath (SC) : He was a judge and headed a special investigating unit which was handed documents detailing allegation of corruption. He was barred by the government from joining the probe into allegations of wrongdoing.

Head of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction Terry Crawford-Browne : He brought a lawsuit to have the arms deal loan agreements declared unconstitutional. He won part of his case for access to related documents in order to prepare for the constitutional challenge.

Patricia de Lille : Former PAC firebrand who has claimed to have privileged information that she wanted to share with the Heath Investigating Unit before it was barred from investigating.

Editor of Noseweek Martin Welz was sued by Land Claims court Judge Fikile Bam and former public protector Selby Baqwa for defamation after a series of exposÚs. Welz claimed that there was a secret meeting at former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni's house where both men were present and the arms deal probe was discussed.

What was the result of the probe into allegations of wrongdoing in the arms deal?

The probe by the auditor-general, the public protector and the national director of public prosecutions has been called a whitewash by some political parties and a "job well done" by the ANC. The report concluded that there was "no evidence of improper or unlawful conduct on the part of government in the arms deal".

In a separate report released in September 2000, auditor-general Shauket Fakie reported that he had identified several shortcomings in the acquisition processes, including possible conflicts of interest among decision-makers and the inadequacy of offset guarantees.

Are there other legal problems with it?

Ecaar says South Africa cannot afford it. They say that in 1998, 19m South Africans lived on or below the poverty line of R353 a month and that the arms deal would impact on the government's ability to supply houses, health care, food, water, help to HIV sufferers and social security.

They also have the following problems with the deal :

What is the public opinion about it?

In a recent survey, 12 percent of ANC supporters said the arms deal was necessary, 19 percent of ANC supporters said it was necessary but the government should scale it down and 62 percent of the party's supporters said it was unnecessary and should be cancelled.

With acknowledgements to The Helen Suzman Foundation and the Cape Argus.