Will the Arms Deal Ever Go Away?
Former deputy president Jacob Zuma is on trial for alleged
corruption linked to South Africa’s controversial arms deal, but critics are
convinced that Zuma’s involvement is small change
compared with other bribes running into millions of rand.
The Jacob Zuma trial is believed to be only one small offshoot of many rotten branches of the controversial South African arms deal. Will the government succeed in wishing away suspicions about the complex deal? Gert Coetzee reports.
According to allegations the R500 000-a-year of which Zuma stands accused is small change compared with other bribes running into millions of rands. No wonder there are so many questions. Will the deal simply go away without answers?
Yes, says the government. Or, as Dr Essop Pahad, minister in die presidency, has said in reply to the nagging questions of Eddie Trent, Democratic Alliance MP, the matter has been “properly investigated *1 and the government will not speak about it again”.
No, say those to whom this reporter spoke, who are advocating opening up the can of worms. Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille says ostrich politics and simply ignoring the matter will not work.
“The government is bluffing itself if it thinks that South Africans believe the perception it is trying to spread that the matter has been thoroughly investigated.
“In 1999 my first allegations, contained in the complete De Lille dossier, were laughed off. Now they have already resulted in the successful prosecution of Tony Yengeni and Schabir Shaik, and in the Zuma trial.
“One thing leads to the next. I will keep asking questions, even if they keep shooting the messenger.”
Like others, she believes the “fall guys” will not fall alone. “Once they start singing …”
Trent is driving the DA’s arms deal “portfolio”.
“If everything is in order, why do so many people and the press not believe the government?
“Two stories about one thing show that somewhere someone is lying.
“Look at President Thabo Mbeki’s (non-) response to my question about his meeting with Thomson-CSF (now Thales) in France on December 17, 1998. His and Thales’s versions differ *2,” says Trent.
Trent believes that the information emerging bit by bit is showing that people know certain things and have proof. “The Zuma’s defence team probably have information that will emerge in court.”
He says giving up is not an option. “It’s South Africans’ right to ask questions and get answers.
“The Constitution, our country’s policy foundation, guarantees transparency. Why are secret meetings necessary? Why does President Mbeki not simply answer yes or no about his meeting with Thomson-CSF? *3”
Hennie van Vuuren, head of the programme on corruption and state management of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), says continued new accusations show that the arms saga will not just go away. More allegations will follow.
According to Van Vuuren the Zuma court case points to a measure of political willingness to investigate alleged corruption and see to it that prosecutions follow.
“At the same time there is some concern that other allegations are not investigated with the same amount of effort.”
The truth will out, but not just by itself.
Dr Richard Young, head of the Cape-based company CCII, says a proper, unencumbered independent commission of inquiry is necessary for this to happen. Young has been involved for many years in a self-funded court case against the Department of Defence about alleged irregularities regarding the late acceptance of Thomson-CSF’s arms bid above his own company’s much lower bid.
He has already used the Access to Information Act against defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota to force the Department to hand over information to him.
The Department of Defence’s appeal against Young’s application failed in February this year, but led to a further appeal. Defence has, as yet, handed nothing over.
Young said last week that the Appeal Court had given the department until June 30 to file its founding papers. CCII now has to file answering affidavits.
“Suddenly last week, the department’s legal team approached us to settle the matter out of court.
“In our meeting with its lawyers we were very accommodating. There was an agreement in principle that they would hand over the documents to us within a day or two.
“A date for a special item in the Pretoria High Court was set for April 16 next year. The court gave the defence department until this past Monday, July 31, to provide the documents for perusal.
“Armscor asked for an extension until September 30 and we agreed to give all parties the same two-month extension.”
Young says the government has two choices in the matter.
“It can fight it in court, and the truth will come out. We will definitely subpoena Mbeki to ask him why he was secretly meeting the French and assuring them that they would get the contract two years before it was signed.
“Or, it can settle out of court, which is always an option for a defendant.”
How long will Young hang in there?
“A good many years,” he said.
Young’s court battle is one of the cases on which other exposers are pinning their hopes for unravelling the matter.
There is also Terry Crawford-Browne’s court battle to obtain documents about the arms package from Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.
The German prosecuting authority is investigating allegations of bribes amounting to about R137 million relating to the German part of the arms deal in which a contract of R6,87 billion was awarded to the German Frigate Consortium (GFC) for four new corvettes for the South African fleet.
The Zuma trial is the big trigger for further developments. In court Zuma named Mbeki as being part of a political conspiracy aimed at preventing him from becoming president.
Apparently, Zuma was “surprised” that Mbeki “an ideal and natural person to testify about the absence of corruption in the tender award process” is not a state witness.
According to Zuma the infamous Zuma-signed letter to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) which confirmed the exclusion of the Heath Unit from the arms inquiry, had been written “word for word” by Mbeki’s office and sent to him with the instruction to sign it.
The exposers believe that the next stop in the matter will be Chippy Shaikh, who was the government’s purchasing head while his brother Shabir was Thompson-CSF’s go-between. The see Chippy as the “domino” that will knock over all the other pieces.
Too many loose threads and unanswered questions exist about the deal for this limited space. As with the United States’ Watergate scandal and South Africa’s own Information scandal, exposing things is not easy. But once things start fraying at the edges …
It is not just about bribery and corruption, but about the credibility of many people, the ANC government (especially its anti-corruption campaign), and the independence of the judiciary and the prosecuting authority the supposed cornerstones of democracy *4.
Van Vuuren says that financial loss aside, the arms saga is extremely bad for the “capacity and public face” of those institutions still in their infancy that are supposed to be promoting democracy.
“For the sake of the whole of South African society and its attempts to establish truly democratic institutions it is essential for all accusations to be thoroughly investigated,” he said.
• As with requests from other media, Barbara Masekela, South Africa’s ambassador in the United States did not respond to a fax enquiry to her at (202) 265-1607 from Volksblad’s U.S. representative in Washington DC about her mediation in the meeting between Mbeki and Thomson-CSF in 1998 in France.
• Volksblad also asked National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Makhosini Nkosi whether the NPA has been in contact with its German counterpart about the latter’s investigations.
“No, we are not interfering with the German investigation. If the German government should *5 submit a request to us, we would co-operate in terms of the guidelines of our departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs,” he said.
With acknowledgements to Gert Coetzee and The Natal Witness.