Publication: Beeld Issued: Date: 2004-10-29 Reporter: JanJan Joubert Reporter:

Mbeki, Naivete, Grey Areas, Black Empowerment and Shaik




Date 2004-10-29


Jan-Jan Joubert

Web Link


English Translation

“Naivete” and grey areas regarding the state’s role in black economic empowerment are being put forward in government circles as reasons for President Thabo Mbeki’s alleged meetings with companies that benefitted from the government’s arms deal.

These alleged meetings came to light this week during the trial of Mr Schabir Shaik in the Durban High Court where he is facing charges of corruption and fraud.

Questions about the alleged Mbeki meetings will probably not be raised during the trial since this is not relevant to Shaik’s prosecution.

Mr Bheki Khumalo, presidential spokesperson, when questioned simply said that the case is sub judice, witnesses must still be tested, Mbeki had done nothing wrong and people should not use the testimony to haphazardly drag peoples’ names through the mud. No further enquiries regarding Mbeki’s role will thus be officially answered.

Sources close to the presidency, as well as the investigation of Shaik’s financial matters, have this week labelled the matter as “sensitive” and gave “naivete” and grey areas regarding the government’s role in empowerment the blame for any uncertainty regarding Mbeki’s role.

From within the presidential circles there have been emotional contentions that Mbeki would never make himself guilty of improper or corrupt behaviour and that any allegations regarding such a possibility will result in a summons for slander *1.

A sensitive issue

This week, evidence presented in court from an audit report of the firm KPMG, indicated that Mbeki, who as vice-president was chairman of the cabinet committee steering the arms deal, apparently had various meetings regarding the nature of their black empowerment partners with the arms dealers who stood to benefit from the transaction. The audit report found that “at least (old president Nelson) Mandela and Mbeki were involved at a high level with negotiations and discussions until the day cabinet approved the list of successful tenderers for the arms deal, but their involvement appear to be limited to the resolution of differences regarding the black empowerment partners in (arms manufacturers) Thomson-CSF and ADS”.

Questions concerning the nature of Mbeki’s alleged meetings regarding the empowerment partners (which includes Shaik), are not expected to come up in the court case since there is no indication that Mbeki received money from those who benefitted from the arms deal transaction.

Documents included in the audit report at various times refer to Mbeki, reasons for his preference of certain empowerment partners and disapproval of others, and also refers to at least two meetings with French arms dealers *2.

Thomson-CSF apparently also sent some questions to him regarding his opinion of Shaik’s Nkobi group, with Ms Barbara Masekela, former South African ambassador in Paris, as mediator and courier.

Khumalo, Mbeki’s spokesperson, refrained from responding to this information since the case is sub judice.

However, a source within the presidency confirmed that Mbeki had met with role players in the arms deal *3 to help clear disagreements between and regarding empowerment partners and labeled it as a sensitive issue.

“People constantly ask the president for advice and he helps wherever he can,” it was explained to Beeld.

“It might have been a little naive of us and we have since learnt not to meet with businessmen so freely, but let me assure you of one thing : All of us that work with him know that he is by no means corrupt.”

State must pay attention to this

Upon enquiring how Mbeki’s conversations regarding the identity of empowerment partners correlates with his role as political leader and one that had to assist with making decisions regarding the tenders for contracts, with the associated risk of favouritism, another source admitted that this was a “grey area” *4.

That the audit report found that Thomson-CSF thought that political connections were necessary to obtain the type of empowerment partner that would please the government enough to ensure you receive the contract, was another explanation the source put forward.

“One has to remember that black economic empowerment is a stepping stone for the normalisation of society *5. Our democracy is still young and many of the processes have not reached maturity yet, so therefore it is still imperfect.

“In any case, one could argue that any possible conflict of interest is eliminated *6 due to the fact that the state is a party to the case and as a guardian of tax money has an interest that the money is not being wasted.”

The source said there are various “chancers” in the empowerment industry *7 and that it is important that the empowerment partners are people that will uphold their part, which explains Mbeki’s continued involvement.

*1       It cannot possibly be slanderous to ask the questions if and why the meetings were held and subsequently why the series of meetings cannot be remembered. It is in the public interest to know the answers to these questions, as well as to speculate on why they took place in the facing of not receiving suitable answers to these questions.

The questions themselves cannot be untrue and any reasonable speculation around why the meetings took place or why they cannot be remembered cannot be taken as untrue.

So the allegations might be considered as slanderous, but are they legally defamatory?

Me thinks not.

*2      At least two meetings, probably three or four meeting, possibly more meetings.

Yet the then Deputy President now "honestly" cannot remember.

*3      But the sources in the presidency at that time confirmed the meetings.

It is no wonder that the memory has failed because there just cannot be an innocent explanation for a series of meetings with a potential sub-supplier during the period from when the RFIs in September 1999 were issued until when the contracts were signed in December 1999.

*4      This is no grey area.

Secret meetings with a foreign company in the company's own offices in the foreign country during the middle of a multi-national bidding process and as chairman of the responsible cabinet sub-committee just cannot be lawful. They cannot possibly be congruent with either the constitutional imperatives, Armscor's statutory regulations with weapon systems acquisition or any other state tendering regulations (such as the Public Finance Management Act and its predecessors).

If one thinks that this is a grey area then after 5 years in government one shouldn't be the president or work in the office of the presidency.

*5      One could (manfully) make the argument, but it would not be a cogent one.

*6      Normalisation of society cannot be achieved by unlawful means.

*7      This is precisely why all the acquisition process have to be squeaky clean and transparent.

Mbeki, Naiwiteit, Grys Gebiede, Swart Bemagtiging en Shaik

Afrikaans Original

"Na witeit" en grys gebiede oor die staat se rol in swart ekonomiese bemagtiging word in regeringskringe aangevoer as redes vir pres. Thabo Mbeki se beweerde vergaderings met maatskappye wat voordeel getrek het uit die regering se wapentransaksie.

Dié beweerde vergaderings het vandeesweek aan die lig gekom in die verhoor van mnr. Schabir Shaik in die Durbanse hooggeregshof, waar hy teregstaan op aanklagte van korrupsie en bedrog.

Vrae oor die beweerde Mbeki-vergaderings gaan waarskynlik nie in die verhoor geopper word nie omdat dit nie ter sake is in Shaik se vervolging nie.

Mnr. Bheki Khumalo, presidentswoordvoerder, wou by navraag net s  die saak is sub judice, getuienis moet nog getoets word, Mbeki het niks verkeerds gedoen nie en mense moenie die getuienis as lotery gebruik om mense lukraak swart te smeer nie. Geen verdere navrae oor Mbeki se rol sal dus amptelik beantwoord word nie.

Bronne na aan sowel die presidensie as die ondersoek na Shaik se geldsake het vandeesweek by navraag die kwessie bestempel as "sensitief" en het "na  witeit" en grys gebiede oor die regering se rol in bemagtiging die skuld gegee vir enige twyfel oor Mbeki se rol.

Vanuit die presidensie se binnekringe is emosioneel betoog dat Mbeki hom nooit aan onbehoorlike of korrupte gedrag skuldig sal maak nie en dat enige bewering oor só 'n moontlikheid op 'n dagvaarding vir laster sal uitloop.

'n Sensitiewe kwessie

Getuienis dié week uit 'n ouditverslag van die firma KPMG wat aan die hof voorgehou is, toon dat Mbeki, wat as adjunkpresident voorsitter was van die kabinetskomitee wat die wapentransaksie moes stuur, blykbaar verskeie ontmoetings oor die aard van hul swartbemagtingsvennote gehad het met wapenhandelaars wat by die transaksies baat sou vind. Die ouditverslag het bevind dat "minstens (oudpres. Nelson) Mandela en Mbeki op hoë vlak betrokke was by onderhandelings en gesprekke tot die dag dat die kabinet die suksesvolle lys tenderaars vir die wapentransaksie goedgekeur het, maar hul betrokkenheid blyk beperk te wees tot die oplos van geskille oor die bemagtigingsvennote in (die wapenvervaardigers) ThomsonCSF en ADS".

Vrae oor die aard van Mbeki se beweerde vergaderings rakende die bemagtigingsvennote (wat Shaik insluit), gaan na verwagting nie in die hofsaak opduik nie, want daar is geen aanduiding dat Mbeki geld ontvang het van diegene wat voordeel uit die wapentransaksie getrek het nie.

Daar word verskeie kere in dokumente wat in die ouditverslag vervat word, verwys na Mbeki, redes vir sy voorkeur vir sekere bemagtigingsvennote en afkeer van ander, en na minstens twee ontmoetings met Franse wapenhandelaars.

Thomson-CSF het glo ook 'n slag vrae aan hom gestuur oor sy menings rakende Shaik se Nkobi-groep, met me. Barbara Masekela, vorige Suid-Afrikaanse ambassadeur in Parys, as tussenganger en koerier.

Khumalo wou as Mbeki se woordvoerder nie op dié inligting reageer nie omdat die saak sub judice is.

'n Bron in die presidensie het egter bevestig Mbeki het met rolspelers in die wapentransaksie vergader om onderlinge stryery tussen en oor bemagtigingsvennote te help uitstryk en het dit as 'n sensitiewe kwessie bestempel.

"Mense vra die president heeltyd raad en hy help waar hy kan," is aan Beeld verduidelik.

"Dit was miskien 'n bietjie na ef van ons en ons het sedertdien geleer om nie meer so geredelik sakelui te ontmoet nie, maar laat ek jou van een ding verseker: Ons almal wat saam met hom werk, weet hy is op geen manier korrup nie."

Staat moet hierop let

Op 'n navraag hoe Mbeki se gesprekke oor die identiteit van bemagtigingsvennote strook met sy rol as politieke leier en die een wat moes help besluit oor die tenders vir die kontrakte, met die gepaardgaande gevaar van bevoordeling, het 'n ander bron toegegee dat dit 'n "grys gebied" is.

Hoewel die ouditverslag bevind Thomson-CSF het gemeen politieke kontakte is noodsaaklik om die tipe bemagtigingsvennoot te kry wat die regering genoeg sou verbly om te verseker jy kry die kontrak, bied die bron 'n ander verklaring.

" 'n Mens moet onthou swart ekonomiese bemagtiging is 'n oorgangstap vir die normalisering van die samelewing. Ons demokrasie is nog jonk en baie van die prosesse het nog nie wasdom bereik nie, sodat dit nog onvolmaak is.

"In elk geval sou 'n mens kon aanvoer enige moontlike konflik van belang word uitgekanselleer daardeur dat die staat 'n party in die geding is en as voog oor belastinggeld 'n belang het dat die geld nie verkwis word nie."

Die bron het aangevoer daar is verskeie "kansvatters" in die bemagtigingsbedryf en dat dit belangrik was dat die bemagtigingsvennote mense sou wees wat hul kant sou kon bring, wat Mbeki se voortgesette betrokkenheid sou kon verduidelik.

Met erkenning aan Jan-Jan Joubert en die Beeld.