Hearings by the Arms Procurement Commission
Allegations of bribery and fraud in the context of the purchase of Gripen fighters and Hawk-training aircraft from British Aerospace in 1999 have been made by politicians and media in South Africa for years. Now, the Arms Procurement Commission has concluded a first round of public hearings.
Critics of the deal say that British Aerospace aircraft had to be bought by South Africa due to political pressure by then defence minister Joe Modise (who died in 2001) although they did not match with requirements issued by the National Defence Force and were a lot more expensive than an Italien offer.
The overall volume of the deal is said to have amounted to 70 billion Rand, with several hundred millions ending up with the ANC who fought an election campaign in 1999.
Such allegations, voiced by former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein and others, were refused however by former Deputy Minister of Defence, Ronnie Kasrils, former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former Minister of trade and industry, Trevor Manuel.
Kasrils told the commission on Friday that he had great faith in former president Nelson Mandela, and the team of ministers negotiating the deal. While finding the money to purchase the planes was clearly a problem, Erwin was convinced that the offsets would make the purchases worthwhile, and Kasrils believed him.
Kasrils also confirmed what previous defence force witnesses have said: that the defence force’s equipment was woefully inadequate at the time – result of international sanctions before 1994 –and needed to be replaced.
The commission is still in phase one of its inquiry, and is thus examining the rationale behind the arms deal. The allegations of fraud and corruption will be dealt with in phase two, likely to start mid-July.