Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2004-10-12 Reporter: Sapa

'What was Mbeki's Role in Arms Deal?'



Mail and Guardian

Date 2004-10-12



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Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon on Tuesday queried the part played by President Thabo Mbeki in South Africa's multibillion-rand arms acquisition programme, saying the "full story" of his role remains among a number of unanswered questions about the controversial deal.

In a speech prepared for delivery at the opening of a new DA constituency office in Cape Town, he said such questions have to be addressed, "if not in the Schabir Shaik trial [currently under way in Durban], then in Parliament and in other forums".

"What has been the president's role? President Thabo Mbeki has been present throughout the arms deal. As deputy president [at the time], he was chair of the subcommittee responsible for ensuring Cabinet approval of the deal.

"In 2001, he excluded the Special Investigating Unit from becoming involved. Last year, he refused to expand the terms of the Hefer commission. What is the full story of his role in the arms deal?"

Leon's remarks come at a time when Deputy President Jacob Zuma's struggle comrade and financial adviser, Durban businessman Shaik, is in the dock facing charges of fraud and corruption related to arms purchases.

The trial - which is expected to lay bare the nature of Shaik's links with Zuma - started on Monday in the Durban High Court.

In his speech on Tuesday, Leon also questioned the impact of the arms deal on South Africa's economy.

"Is our defence spending appropriate to our needs? Our military strategy is based on a landward defence, yet we are spending large amounts on maritime and aeronautic hardware."

Already, the arms deal is having a negative effect on the country's current account balance.

"Furthermore, it seems likely that in the near future our nation's defence spending will exceed 2% of GDP [gross domestic product] through further arms purchases, as well as through increased peacekeeping commitments.

"What impact will this have on our struggling economy?" Leon asked.

With acknowledgements to Sapa and the Mail & Guardian.