The Natal Witness : Opinion
The infamous arms deal has a lingering nasty smell. In addition to the dubious wisdom of spending vast amounts of public money on such weaponry have been the persistent rumours of corruption at very high levels.
Beyond the lesser lights, the cycle of suspicion has repeatedly thrown up four big names the late defence minister Joe Modise, the former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni, the former transport minister Mac Maharaj, and Deputy President Jacob Zuma. Whatever new information new investigations may disclose, Modise is past being affected by it. Yengeni has at last admitted his guilt and resigned from parliament. Maharaj is coming under ever more careful scrutiny.
This week has brought significant progress towards the disclosure of what has been going on. The Auditor-General has decided that confidential documents related to the arms deal can, after all, be made available to Richard Young, whose company failed to win the contract to supply military computer systems. With the United States navy having recently bought Young's system, the argument that it was inadequate for South Africa's needs looks decidedly thin, and these document may well reveal irregularities in the decision-making process.
Altogether there is a sense of skittles falling, and the effect is to cast growing doubt on the role of the remaining big name - that of the deputy president. It would be grossly wrong, however, to assume that because a pattern seems to be emerging, Zuma is necessarily implicated in wrongdoing. On the contrary, what is needed is a full and thorough investigation of his particular case, to clear his name or, if the evidence points that way, to confirm the allegations. For this reason, the decision by President Thabo Mbeki not to set up a commission of inquiry is unfortunate.
It is in the interests of the country and of Zuma himself to get this matter out into the open. It is also in the interests of Mbeki and the ANC. The handling of the Yengeni affair added to the general perception that this administration's commitment to open government is very shallow indeed. Much is said about transparency, but when push comes to shove the ANC closes ranks and slams down the shutters. The country needs a clear sign that the president wants to get this matter properly cleared up, and is advancing the process, not impeding it.
With acknowledgement to The Natal Witness.