Undermining South Africa’s Young Democracy, by Andrew Feinstein
Andrew Feinstein, former ANC MP, writes:
When the ANC came to power in 1994, we were committed to reducing military expenditure in favour of much needed socio-economic spending. But there was an acknowledgement, not uncontroversial, that there was a requirement for some modernisation of the South African Defence Force, and a Defence Review took place. It identified equipment for peacekeeping that would cost just under 8 billion rand. By the time the arms deal is concluded in 2018, when payments end, it will have cost South African in excess of 100 billion rand.
The largest contract was for fighter and fighter trainer aircraft, a controversial requirement in and of itself given that the Air Force had at least 15 jets that had never been used There were nine bidders for the contract .and from these the Air Force Technical Committee drew up a shortlist of two. A bid by BAE/Saab was not on it: it didn’t meet technical requirements in some areas and exceeded others in a way that would be problematic for South African pilots; and it was two and a half times more expensive than the aircraft the committee wanted.
However, the then Defence Minister Joe Modise was determined that BAE/Saab should gain the contract. He first demanded that their bid be added to the short-list. It was, as third. He then, in a “visionary” moment, instructed cost to be excluded from the decision on this the largest single contract entered into by the new democracy. But even taking this extraordinary step, the BAE/Saab bid was not first. So the final machination was to increase the weighting of the dubious offset criteria and to ask BAE to increase the level of industrial participation in its bid. It did so, and the contract was awarded, despite the SA Air force saying publicly they would only accept this jet if forced to do so by the politicians.
What was the motivation for such enthusiasm for the BAE/Saab plane? I would suggest the most compelling reason was the £116 million in bribes that were paid on that one contract. They were paid to Joe Modise, to his advisor Fana Hlongwane, to the ANC, and to middlemen and agents to “financially incentivise” decision makers.
I led the ANC group on the Public Accounts Committee at the time and, following a report from the Auditor-General, we began looking into the arms deals. Shortly afterwards I was being asked by a senior meeting of the party what I though I was doing questioning the integrity of the cabinet and the leadership of the ANC. I was then summoned to see the Presidency, and told the matter would be dealt with internally in the party, not in public. I refused. Six weeks later I was removed from the committee, as were others who felt the deal should be investigated.
Before being removed from the Committee, we had set up a large multi-agency team to investigate the allegations of corruption. It was impossible for the ANC to simply end the investigation so instead they excluded the country’s main anti-corruption body and Thabo Mbeki called in the heads of the four other bodies and told them who and what they could and could not investigate. This was unconstitutional.
Prosecutorial and investigative bodies were destroyed by this intervention. The main anti-corruption body, the Scorpions, ceased to exist at the beginning of 2009. The Public Accounts Committee has never been able to investigate an allegation of corruption against a senior member of the ANC. The events signaled the start of a number of corruption scandals that used the same modus operandi to enrich senior party members and the party itself.
The ANC and the Government were prepared to undermine and destroy Parliament, a key institution that so many of them had fought so hard to achieve. It went from being an accountable vibrant forum where the executive and cabinet were held to account, to becoming nothing more than a rubber stamp for the wishes of the ANC leadership.
In the meantime, while we were spending what will amount to over £8 billion on arms and weapons that we didn’t need and barely use, Thabo Mbeki told the five and a half million South Africans who were living with HIV and AIDS that we could not afford the anti-retroviral medication that they needed to stay alive.
South Africa’s politics remains deeply scarred by the scandal and its cover-up, with current President Jacob Zuma initially charged with over 700 counts of corruption before a politically-charged decision resulted in the charges being dropped 10 days before his election. The investigative and prosecutorial authorities lurch from crisis to crisis while corruption becomes pervasive in this once so hopeful democracy.
The UK’s failure to take any action against BAE suggests, according to a leading a leading anti-corruption opposition MP in South Africa, that the UK has lost the moral authority to talk about good governance and fighting corruption to other world leaders. “They are no better than any of the rogue leaders in Africa who have used funds from bribes in arms deal to stay in power,” she said.