Jonty Fisher
Jonty Fisher

The arms deal: The defining spectre of our past decade in politics

The current transitional phase that’s playing out within the ANC and, by consequence, in South Africa has led me — along with most political commentators — to look both back at the past decade in politics and governance and forward to our near-term future as a country.

In doing this, it becomes immediately apparent what a significant role the 1999 arms deal has had in shaping the South African political landscape over the past nine years. What was a controversial decision at the time has extrapolated into a festering sore for the party and the country, with influences far beyond those merely accused of being involved in the corruption scandal.

At the time in 1999, many saw the arms deal as a misguided and rather hubristic attempt at showing South Africa’s stature as an African superpower. In hindsight, it seems to be borne out as exactly that, along with the sideline of lining many white-collared pockets in the process. The arms deal spent a jaw-dropping amount of money either on protecting our nation from an invading force (very unlikely) or on enabling us to play a more significant role in peacekeeping on the continent (more likely).

However, with the inabilities in defence leadership, we now have new frigates and fighter jets that aren’t cruising or flying due to maintenance and training problems, resigning the arms deal to an expensive mistake. This, though, is the backdrop of its significance in politics and governance, and the effects of those 1999 signatures will be felt for years to come yet.

The immediate aftermath of the arms deal showed the first cracks in the adulation justifiably thrown at the ANC after 1994, offering up one of the first real opportunities for opposition groups to make inroads into the ANC’s large electoral base (which remains largely unleveraged). The first allegations of misdemeanours surfaced publicly in January 1999, with Patricia de Lille’s parliamentary allegations that monies were paid into ANC coffers by frigate manufacturer Thyssen-Krupp. The public’s absorption of these allegations ran across two fault lines. The first group was the disgruntled, old-guard whites who saw it as the first shift in an inevitable slide towards the Zimbabwean fate; the second was the far left, which felt largely sidelined by capitalist government policies and already could not believe the vast sums prioritised on armaments over poverty alleviation.

The allegations allowed those negative about the new dispensation to start spreading negative sentiment about the endemic nature of corruption in the country, locally and internationally. However, it undoubtedly led to a relaxation of perceptions around corruption at lower governance (especially municipal) levels, as there was an attitude of “well, if my leaders are doing it, why can’t I?”. This laid a platform for poor local governance that remains today.

And then one comes to the party individuals themselves. The obvious starting point is the Zuma affair, with Schabir Shaik’s role in the arms deal leading to Zuma’s sacking as deputy state president by Thabo Mbeki in 2005, which has had — and will continue to have — a massive impact on this decade’s politics. There was also the Yengeni issue, where ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni was given a luxury car discount by EADS, a potential arms-deal supplier. It has become patently obvious, however, that these two were clear fall guys for the party as a whole, especially with the recent allegations drawn out of the so-called Mabandla dossier.

The arms deal also provided the platform of personal recognition for Patricia de Lille, which enabled her to form the Independent Democrats in 2003. Although not setting opposition politics alight, the ID has played an oft-important role, especially in the context of the Western Cape coalition government that held the ANC at bay in the province.

The NPA’s role of seemingly selective prosecutions with respect to those involved in the arms deal has also led to some turbulence in the constitutional separation of powers between the judiciary and governing bodies. The NPA’s alleged political interference during these matters has led to attacks on the judiciary from inside and outside the ANC, which opens it to abuse both ways and which represents a distinct threat to the perceived strength of the judiciary in South Africa.

The current transition period within the ANC can also surely find its antecedents in the rising disillusionment felt by the left around the time of the arms deal and exacerbated up until Polokwane. The 1994 victory was supposed to herald a new socialist dawn in South Africa, but here, less than five years after freedom, we had a fat-cat capitalist deal of obscene proportions with allegations of widespread graft to boot. The Freedom Charter did not provide for this challenge, and many on the left saw this as the ultimate selling-out of the struggle.

While this doesn’t explain the left’s championing of Zuma, I would argue that the left saw in him a vehicle back to the governing table, viewing him as more of an “anti-Mbeki” than a government fat cat. Perhaps most importantly, though, the arms deal definitely added to the emboldening of the left of the ANC. It provided the moral right to campaign against the policies of the day, implying that there was evidence of the ultimate sin — greedy capitalism at the expense of the poor, where that money would have undoubtedly been better spent. This was an incredibly attractive rallying call for the destitute and those living in rural poverty, and it formed a basis for the left to become emboldened enough to make various confrontational policy attacks on the government in the two years leading up to Polokwane and, ultimately, for them to sweep back to governing prominence.

Currently, the arms deal presents a unique opportunity to those within the left sections of the ANC to go after Thabo Mbeki and other leaders within the incumbent clique and bring the graft allegations against Jacob Zuma into question. Andrew Feinstein’s book After the Party illustrated an endemic, party-wide cashing-in on the arms deal, and given Mbeki’s role in overseeing the procurement process, it is not improbable that much more laundry is about to be aired.

At last Friday’s NEC meeting, a number of high-ranking ANC members, including Tokyo Sexwale, called on Mbeki to provide all the details about the arms deal, a move that could be very uncomfortable for the party as a whole. It has become clear that the arms deal now supersedes individuals; it is a beast with tentacles all through the party. It remains a cancerous sore that could have huge implications for the ANC in the next five years.

Personally, I feel that it’s important for us as a nation to go through the short-term pain of fully investigating the truth of the entire arms-deal affair, in order for us to put this period of politics and governance behind us. It will be incredibly painful and will have huge implications for the ANC and for Zuma, but we have to draw the line somewhere, and commit, as a nation, to face up to the corruption allegations of the arms deal — whether they are ultimately proved correct or not.

The arms deal has had too much influence in South African politics and while we can’t undo the decision, it’s time that we laid all the cards on the table to allow us to close the door on this poisoned chalice.

  • Musa

    I thought secretary general of the ANC denied this ‘call’ on Mbeki to ‘provide’ all details on the arms deal, I could be wrong though.

  • Afrikaner

    The only surprise here should be that anybody was surprised by the corruption and criminality associated with the arms deal.

    The ANC was always a terrorist organization, utterly unequipped to handle the responsibilities of government. With so-called heroes like Robert McBride, what else did we expect?

  • Owen

    Even if the arms deal was not full of corruption, it should never have happened if the ANC leadership had a clear vision for what they wanted their grand children to inherit.

    Yes, we needed to protect our sea resources, but 3 far less sophisticated ships would have done the job.

    Now if we had built the power stations that anyone with a bit of forward planning sense could see was needed back then, then today the ANC would be on the moral high ground.

    Instead it has become an embarrassing government that does not make us proud.

  • Miles Teg

    Besides the arms deal itself, the M&G has also covered the management of the reciprocal investments by Treasury and Dept of Trade and Industry. Last time I looked reciprocal credits were claimed for products manufactured here (if I am correct like helmets) even before the arms deal and which should NOT have been included in the reciprocity scheme. If these two departments cannot manage this, and they are in charge of the entire economy, then we have a great deal to worry about. The arms deal should have released billions into the economy – where is it? Can treasury show us?

  • BMX

    The NATS were equally as corrupt. Look at the Information scandal the subsidizing of Louis Luyt’s fertilizer industry the suggling of ivory out of the operational area. The ANC were taught by experts. Those experts were the old masters of political hypocrisy the Nats

  • Jack Monde

    Firstly, your assertion that we “now have new frigates and fighter jets that aren’t cruising or flying due to maintenance and training problems”, is not substantiated by any facts. Please provide us with facts, if unavailable, desist from speculation and/or misinformation.

    Secondly, your asserion that “the ID has played an oft-important role, especially in the context of the Western Cape coalition government that held the ANC at bay in the province”, is similarly not accurate. My understanding is that the ID is a significant player in Local Government, specifically municipal governments such as Cape Town. At a provincial level the ID has had no significant impact on the ANC’s hegemony. It is in fact the ANC itself that seems to be intent, by its continued in-fighting, to reverse its gains in the Western Cape provincial structures.

    Lastly, you seem to fall into the South African journalist’s trap of lacking awareness of context and history, as well as an understanding environmental constraints. The background of the arms deal is the many fruitless interventions that were made by the Mandela government in African regional conflicts. South Africa’s role was undermined by the perceived view that her military was no longer up to acceptable operational levels (remember the intervention in Lesotho?). It was therefore conceivable that policy makers would prioritise improving South Africa’s military capability, which they did. The fact that individuals hi-jacked the process with corrupt intent, does not mean that we should view the arms deal as having been based on bad policy, particularly 9 – 11.

    Regarding an aspect you have not dealt with herein and which I think relevant to the criticism of the arms deal, the premium price of the arms acquisition. Policy making occurs within the context of environmental contsraints, some historical and some not. It is therefore, in my opinion, bad analysis to ignore factors such as: (1) the historical relationship between the ANC and Sweden, and the need to maintain it, which conceivably influenced the purchase of the SAAB’s instead of the italian jets and (2) the need maintain historical and/or industrial and/or political relations with Britain, France and Germany (the primary powers of the EU) by acquiring respectively training jets, combat suites and warships. There could have been cheaper options (e.g. Former – Soviet hardware, which was rock-bottom cheap at the time, etc), but these countries were not at the time viewed as the most ideal partners at the time.

    Context is fundamental to analysis, hindsight (in the wrong hands)distorts analysis.

  • Amanda

    @Jack Monde
    I have an issue with your argument – the love-in between SA and the rest of the world when the arms deal was initially negotiated was at its peak. There was no need for SA to curry favour with anyone – the world was only too anxious to make nice with the new SA. I suspect that from the perspective of the sellers – as in every instance where weapons deals are concerned, the only issue at hand was how much money could be made. Relationship building plays no role in the arms industry – these same arms dealers sell to the highest bidder, regardless of their morality and political allegiances.
    The failed peacekeeping efforts of Mandela is similarly without substance – it is highly questionable whether SA would have deployed the kind of arms purchased in such exercises. And let us ask what policy was at the time. For a government that based its manifesto on reconstruction and the upliftment of the poor in this country, a massive wasted investment in arms ‘in case’ South Africa needed to keep the peace in other countries cannot be justified – surely? It is the same sort of argument that George Bush has used to defend America’s ill-fated misadventures in Iraq.
    The bottom line is that a country with so many poor, unemployed, illiterate, and HIV-infected citizens should have focused its efforts on addressing these issues. It has scarcely made a dent here. It is not only appropriate to question the rationale of the arms deal against this background, but our duty to do so, and demand complete disclosure on every aspect. The fact that Govt has obfuscated at every point leads us, like Occam’s Razor, to deduce that in the absence of any other evidence, nefarious intentions motivated this deal.

  • MFB

    Monde is right. The ID played no role in Western Cape politics, although it did eventually cement the DA in power in Cape Town by abandoning its ideal of promoting genuine coalition politics.

    It’s impossible to see the arms deal as anything to do with a superpower attitude. A squadron of jet fighters and a few warships do not make a superpower. The most plausible view of the arms deal (apart from narrow tactical considerations) was as a sop to the military, which needed to be consoled for its collapse after the De Klerk reforms of the late 1980s.

    Another major thing which Mr. Fisher doesn’t mention is the astonishing amount of misinformation which has been put out concerning the arms deal. (For instance, the Sexwale accusations against Mbeki were made on the basis of a newspaper report which only mentioned Mbeki peripherally. Meanwhile, of course, Sexwale was sitting in the same room, when he made his accusations, with an ex-MP who had gone to jail for taking arms deal bribes, and an ex-general forced to resign for taking arms deal bribes — neither of whom Sexwale had ever criticised. This important point was, of course, omitted from media reports on the issue.)

    The chief impression I have about comment on the arms deal, though, is that a lot of white South Africans think that black people can’t fly planes or sail ships. I don’t think that white racism is the fault of the government!

  • Alan

    Jack has some valid points but fails to contextualize the spending of billions of rands on armaments. At that time there were (and of course still are) much more pressing issues that require(d) attention, and funds. Poverty alleviation programs that were not implemented at that time have now become a festering sore. Crime has soared along with corruption because the government failed to correctly prioritize its mandate.
    I sincerely hope that all the sordid details of the arms deal come to light so that we can make an informed analysis. Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma seem determined not to let the truth surface and expect us to accept their assurances, despite overwhelming evidence of massive fraud and corruption. Whether the frigates are sailing or not is immaterial. Very little benefit has been derived from the arms deal for a poor, unemployed person living in abject poverty on the fringes of society. This shady deal has not improved the lives of anyone other than the corrupt officials who dreamed it up.

  • Arms for the poor

    The reason for the arms deal was to compensate ANC cadres who, having spent years in the bush, exile or on Robben Island while their contemporaries were building pension funds, now found themselves facing a retirement with no income. Arms dealers are notorious bribers (how else does every dictator fill his Swiss bank account?) yet no-one in the new establishment cried “they tried to bribe me”. Was the ANC taking bribes? Kerzner’s claim of having donated R1 million was, after the initial denial (soon to become the ANC kneejerk reaction), confirmed by Mandela. This was followed by a tax and foreign exchange amnesty, which allowed the fat cats to repatriate their “alms”. Joe Modise died a millionaire.

    Ironically, it was at a judicial inquirey into foreign exchange contraventions that the beans were spilled over the Information Scandal. Infogate was used to topple Nat “crown prince” Transvaal leader Connie Mulder in favour of the Cape’s “liberal” [sic] PW Botha in the Nats’ succession battle. The more things change…

    Of course, the most appaling aspect of the sordid mess is that the Minister of Finance applied his mind and the law in allowing this expenditure (pace the recent court case) yet has underspent on infrastructure and poverty relief. (Eskom, health, crime, roads, water, schools…)

    After Zuma’s dumping, he was the only contender with nothing to loose – all the others were (and are?) dependent on Mbeki’s patronage – hence Cosatu & SACP using him as a useful idiot.

    As a final proof of God’s sense of humour, SA’s first black woman admiral, in command of a frigate, was fired recently for fraud.

  • Walt

    For God’s sake Jonty, don’t sound so surprized. Surely you can see that the ‘arms deal’, Eskom debacle, infrastructural collapse, health care hell, etc., are all ‘vehicles’ to ‘create’ crisis. Crisis is then followed by some government manipulated ‘rescue’, allways requiring vast amounts of money. This in turn provides perfect opportunity to scrape some into selected pockets.
    Its all happend before – all the way down Africa from the Congo to Zimbabwe.
    SA is merely the last teetering domino.
    Quit acting as if is some amazing new development!

  • Lyndall Beddy

    Very good article. Also very sad. Mbeki has followed in Nkrumah’s footsteps – he made similar mistakes. Inherited one of the richest countries in Africa and bankrupted it in 9 years.

    Everything is potentially solveable – except the dissolution of the Scorpions. Once we have lost them ????

  • Robert

    I can’t comment on the airplanes but based on the pub-rumours in Simonstown Jonty Fisher is right about the Corvettes being lemons with lots of broken systems.

    However I agree with Jack Monde that Jonty Fisher has understated the importance of the ID. As a non-racial, pro-poor party with strong ethics and an honest and skilled leader they are sure to continue to grow substantially. The information in the de Lille was given to Patricia by a group of disgruntled ANC MPs. They could have given it to Holomisa or the DA. The reason that they chose Patricia is because of her inherent integrity and honesty. (The same reason why I personally vote for the ID.)

    Anyway, what extraordinary hypocrisy for Sexwale and Lindiwe Sisulu to call on Mbeki to come clean on the arms deal! Both Sexwale and Lindiwe’s brother Max (Zuma supporter, NEC member & SASOL big-shot) are mentioned in the deLille dossier in the context of alleged corruption. Yet neither is mentioned in the Mabandla dossier based on the German investigation. Does anybody know any details of what these Sexwale and Sisulu are alleged to have done? I’d love to hear any answer on this, even if its just a guess.

  • killroy

    Jack Monde

    we “now have new frigates and fighter jets that aren’t cruising or flying due to maintenance and training problems”, is not substantiated by any facts.

    I wouldn’t know about the frigates but i do have a family member that used to do maintenance on the new Hawk training aircraft and the fact is that at least one new aircraft has been used for spares. In other words we have a brand new aircraft which cost the taxpayer millions stripped for spares which results in a very expensive shell. And that is a fact.

  • MFB

    Killroy, it’s standard operating procedure to have some aircraft non-operational, and these are very often used for spares; happens in all Western air forces as far as I know.

    The chap who said that the country has been bankrupted indicates just how low the level of intellectual discourse is. Of course, the country was in budget deficit in 1994 and is now in credit; the country was approaching a debt trap in 1994 and now is not. It’s remarkable how people talk airily about things they know nothing about. (Not meaning you, Killroy.)

    Incidentally, the arms deal is a trivial part of the budget. For instance, the 2008 extraordinary spending on ESCOM amounted to half of the entire spending on the arms deal (that spending was amortized over ten years), and yet the ESCOM spending was simply seed money to facilitate the borrowing of the hundreds of billions ESCOM needs.

    People who pretend to be pro-poor need to familiarise themselves with the facts, otherwise they are simply nincompoops serving other peoples’ hidden agendas.

  • Ntondolo

    Thabo Mbeki and his corrupt clique must be thoroughly investigated. They have been lying all along. Could this have been the motivation for the President to stay in power for long, so that he could sit on the matter for as long as possible? Just asking.

    PS: we have always known that Zuma was being targeted by Mbeki’s men, who feared that should he be elected, he would be in a position to reveal what Mbeki has tried so hard to hide: the rampant corruption in the arms deal. By the way, when Mbeki was putting together and executing the arms deal, Zuma was sitting meaninglessly in an Inkatha-dominated KwaZulu-Natal provincial administration, miles away from the deal itself. We have always known that his prosecution has nothing to do with the arms deal, but an attempt to sully his name and block him from becoming our president next year. Needless to say, the ANC rank-and-file refused to be fooled, and showed their view at the 2005 national general council (NGC) and finally in Polokwane two months ago! Watch this space.

  • Alan

    Ntondolo, why is Mr. Zuma desperately trying to block the submission of evidence into his upcoming trial? He may have been sitting in KZN when the worst excesses of the deal played out, but he and Shaik did benefit from the arms deal. Their generally corrupt relationship is not a matter of conjecture but a tried and proven case. Much as I like Mr. Zuma, I cannot bury my head in the sand and ignore his past behaviour and his current shenanigans in Mauritius.

  • Draganov

    Having lost the moral high groung, the ANC has manifested nothing but disapointment in its delivery of anything that it has set out to do. From sub standard housing to blatent theft of resourses. From Massive incompetence to racist legislation. From misrepresentation to destruction of the health-care system (Resulting in 2500 deaths a day from AIDS).
    But the most aweful thing about the ANC is that they could have done something good. They had everthing laid out for success and they chose, from the outset, to grab everything they could for their elite and stuff everyone else.
    NKosi Luthuli must be crying in his grave!
    The ANC have finally tipped the scales to become worse than Apartheid!

  • http://na paul hoffman

    So, what is it to be? A judicial commission of enquiry with plenary powers, an amnesty process for those involved, more individual prosecutions a la Shaik and Yengeni and now Zuma, further obfuscation and denial, non co-operation with foreign investigations of our arms deal, the list is long and the items on it are not mutually exclusive. The political will however, is in short supply. The Glenister application to save the scorpions includes an affidavit by Andrew Feinstein in which he confirms on oath his “After the Party” revelations around the arms deal and the SCOPA cover-up that followed. That affidavit calls for a full answer, not a bare denial, as it sets out the chapter and verse of what actually occured. If he and Terry Crawford-Browne were the first witnesses at an open and transparent commission of enquiry presided over by a judge, a constructive process to get the country out of the mire that is the aftermath of the arms deal will be put in train, and best of all the deal can be cancelled, the arms returned to the dealers and the money to the coffers of the nation, where it can be put to better use in energy, education, housing and poverty alleviation. The cancellation of the arms deal should be a high national priority, the people, not the arms dealers, could do with the money. Arguments that a cancellation would have a negative effect on our standing amoung nations and investors seem misguided: dealing honestly and openly with the toxicity of the arms deal should enhance SA’s standing, not diminish it, except of course among the corrupt. Our ability to deal properly with the problem is a measure of the extent of our corruption as a nation.

  • Robert

    Mbeki allowed the corruption to happen in order to get money for the ANC. JZ, the Shaiks, Yengeni et al did it for themselves. That’s the rumour.

    But what about Sisulu and Sexwale? Somebody must have some info.

  • Aubrey

    Thabo Mbeki and his corrupt clique must be thoroughly investigated. They have been lying all along. Could this have been the motivation for the President to stay in power for long, so that he could sit on the matter for as long as possible? Just asking.

    PS: we have always known that Zuma was being targeted by Mbeki’s men, who feared that should he be elected, he would be in a position to reveal what Mbeki has tried so hard to hide: the rampant corruption in the arms deal. By the way, when Mbeki was putting together and executing the arms deal, Zuma was sitting meaninglessly in an Inkatha-dominated KwaZulu-Natal provincial administration, miles away from the deal itself. We have always known that his prosecution has nothing to do with the arms deal, but an attempt to sully his name and block him from becoming our president next year. Needless to say, the ANC rank-and-file refused to be fooled, and showed their view at the 2005 national general council (NGC) and finally in Polokwane two months ago! Watch this space.

    I heartily agree with you my brother. JZ is too African for the refined palates of our white brothers. He is a scapegoat but he will be exonerated

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Nkrumah bankrupted Ghana in 9 years. He was deposed in 1966. Mbeki should have had enough time to study what NOT to do.

    As for debt traps – have you heard of the Asian meltdown and how it affected third world markets, including ours?

    The arms deal might look like ” a trivial part of the budget” to you , but you don’t appear to have understood the concept of inflation. A house which cost R250,000 in 1994 could cost R1,500,000 today. Compare apples with apples.

    Zuma is trying to claim attorney’s priviledge over 19 boxes of documents sent by Shaik to Zuma’s attorney, which were still unopened and his attorney had not even read, when they were seized ! Really!!

  • Neville Perrins

    I read your article on the arms deal.There was another arms deal back in the 1970,s with Armscor and the purchase of many C120 Lockheed planes. The deal was done by Mr John Nash retired chairman of Sable Holdings Ltd. His son Simon is involved in the pension scadal trial. I worked for them back in the 1983 here in America when a indictment was issued against Mr Nash. Here again money was the main issue except I believe it never returned to South Africa. If you are interested please contact me. Regards,
    Neville Perrins

  • cool down.

    What is the use of high flying attack aircraft.
    They are absolutely useless in supporting
    ground troops,unless you want to invade some
    country and have in mind to destroy theirs
    before they get of the ground.

    If they bought more slow low flying aircraft
    to control our borders and hunt poachers and
    car thieves it would have made sense to me.

  • Davd Merrington

    Monde, with speficic reference to the naval portion, there is more to the ‘history’ of this ruinous arms deal than you seem to realise. Ever since the Simonstown Agreement (in 1957 if I remember correctly), SA governments have repeatedly fallen for the false idea that we need a minesweeping and anti-submarine force. That was necessary in WWII, but in ’57 it happened again because part of the agreement over the naval base was that we would buy British sweepers and frigates. Conned, you see? And the heroes in our new govt obviously just as dumb, as well as vainglorious, greedy, and heedless of the SAN’s expert submissions. The navy we need is of the coastguard sort, not a showy conventional fleet.

  • Darren

    @Davd Merrington, you’re rather far off the mark. The new frigates are not a minesweeping and anti-submarine force akin to that purchased as part of the Simonstown Agreement; instead they are versatile multi-role ships capable of anti-ship, land-attack and anti-air operations. They do possess a minor anti-submarine capability through their onboard SuperLynx helicopters, but this is not their primary role. For a small navy like the SAN, tasked with undertaking a wide variety of potential missions over a massive maritime zone, you’d be hard-pressed to find more suitable ships for the price.

    @cool down, high-speed attack aircraft like the Gripens are well-suited to modern close air support missions, supporting troops equipped with laser designators and the like. Not only does their high speed make them perfect for tactical surveillance, but it allows them to reach troops on the battlefield far faster than slow-moving attack aircraft could, allowing the use of fewer aircraft. Sure, the slow-movers have some advantages, but for many roles the Gripens are more than adequate and are actually better suited.

    @Neville Perkins. There’s no such thing as a C120, nor were any Lockheed aircraft purchased in the 1970s. I’m inclined to view your claim with more than a little skepticism.

    Overall, this post’s comments is symptomatic of a severe lack of understanding about the Arms Deal amongst even educated South Africans. This is more than a little disappointing, since we’ve had nearly a decade to become acquainted with the facts.

    One of those is that the Arms Deal took nothing away from the government’s funding for houses, health and the poor. Every single Rand spent on the Arms Deal has come from the defence budget and continues to do so, while the defence budget itself has shrunk as a proportion of government and per-GDP spending. Hence the insufficient funding spent on training, which is why the frigates and submarines are not being used to their full capacity (this will change as the Navy’s budget squeeze lessens). The SANDF has been forced to conduct all training and operations within only 50% of its pre-1999 budget, adjusted for inflation.

    If you truly wish to direct your ire at real government misuse of money better used elsewhere, look at monstrosities like the Gautrain, which at R25 billion or so really does represent an additional burden on government spending in a way the Arms Deal did not.

  • Alan

    Yes but why did South Africa need these arms. There were and still are much more pressing needs than armaments. Nobody in their right mind would want to attack or invade a country as crime and poverty ridden as SA. That is perhaps one of the few ironic, tangible benefits of the arms deal.

  • Darren

    As I said before, the Arms Deal was paid for out of the existing defence budget, which had already been slashed drastically by 1998 and has actually declined in real terms over the past decade. The defence budget has consistently made up only 4-5% of the government’s annual spending and around 1.2% of GDP, which in global terms is unusually low for a country of our size. With those figures, I don’t see how it can be argued that defence spending or the arms deal are taking money away from social programs and healthcare. No other major department receives so little funding.

    So it’s really irrelevant why SA needs the arms, since the country is paying no more for them than it would’ve been paying for the SANDF without the arms deal. The question then becomes whether SA needs a military, yet I think with the SANDF’s enormous contribution to internal stability, disaster recovery and continental peacekeeping that’s hardly something worth debating.

    Somebody had to pay extra for those weapons, but it was not us as taxpayers, it was not welfare recipients and it was not AIDS patients; instead it was the SANDF, which decided that its dire need to replace the obsolete equipment in its inventory was worth the pain of a few years of financial squeeze.

  • http://hhtp;? Lyndall Beddy


    The SANDF paid? They belong to a seperate country do they? Don’t come out of the national budget at all?

    The gautrein was ALSO a waste of money – not instead of.

    Pity they forgot about Eskom while they were spending!

  • Darren

    Lyndall, it’s really quite simple. By 1998, the defence budget had been cut to a level of less than 1.2% of GDP, a level the ANC regarded as sustainable in that it would allow for a certain level of military capability to be maintained while having minimal impact on spending for healthcare, welfare, education and policing. Typically, in any given year over the past decade, the entire defence budget (arms deal and all) has averaged at only around 5% of the government’s annual budget, which is tiny.

    Since purchasing the arms deal in 1999, the SA has paid for it entirely through the defence budget *without* increasing the budget by a proportionate amount. What this means is that the funding available for training, operations and maintenance was halved in order to fit the arms deal payments in. Had South Africa not purchased any new weaponry, we as taxpayers would still be paying the same amount of money, but the SANDF would have twice the amount available for day-to-day operations.

    But let’s look at it from another angle: Imagine, if you will, a person earning R20 000 a month, who decides to buy a car which will cost R4 000 a month. Does this mean that she costs her employer R4 000 extra a month? Of course not. It just means that her effective salary (which she lives on) becomes R16 000 a month until she pays the car off. Conceptually, it’s the exact same situation with the arms deal. Now do you understand why it was technically the SANDF that paid for it, not us?

  • http://hhtp;? Lyndall Beddy

    Read “Eye on the Money” I am not wasting my time on a topic already covered by experts

  • Darren

    That would be the book written by Terry Crawford-Browne, the guy so out of touch that he advised South Africa to default on the loans it took out from large international banks for the Arms Deal, believing that we’d suffer no negative consequences? So much for being an expert.

  • Cool Down

    Dear Darren
    Tell me in which army did you serve?

    You must be kidding when you say they can reach
    troops faster and support them. They are fine to destroy infrastructure, but in the Desert war enemy tanks and mobile missile units were destroyed by helicopters and tank buster aircraft.

    These aircraft are deployed as close air support
    and include the US Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt and
    Russian Sukhoi Su 25 Frogfoot.They operate in front of the battle.

  • Cool Down

    PS Darren

    I forget to mentioned that although the Gripen
    is a multi purpose aircraft,it will be used
    according to the official release for limited
    ground support.

    Here is one for the Army boys, what would you
    prefer for support the Gripen or the AC 130
    if you were under heavy enemy fire.

    Bear in mind that the US was rather reluctant
    to use the AC 130 despite it reputation as a
    ‘troop killing machine’ during daylight because
    of of its weakness against shoulder fired missiles.

    Its reputation dates back to the Vietnam war.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    SA very sucessfully did default on its loans in the mid 80s. I predicted they would and no-one believed me.

    I thought it very funny! They forced their creditors to restructure. Was else could they do – go to war?

  • Charissa Esteybar

    This is probably one of the best sources of information I have come across on this subject. I would like to know if you have you though about the other side of the argument of natural health? To be candid, I think a decent argument could be made either way, but let me know if you have any more sites or articles on the Web that back up what you are proposing.