One interesting development out of Monday’s ANC NEC meeting was the announcement of an ad-hoc committee that will produce a “detailed structural report” on the 1999 arms deal. This has supposedly been brought to bear given the lack of detail of the facts surrounding the arms deal and the role of the ANC president, Jacob Zuma, in it.
However, given the Zuma-dominated NEC, along with many feelings of hypocrisy about Mbeki, there may be a more sinister directive; finding evidence, coincidental or not, on President Thabo Mbeki.
Much of the tolerance of Zuma’s graft taint stems from the fact that much of the electorate believes that Mbeki is as guilty of corruption in the arms deal as Zuma, but that he was more effective in shutting down investigations. It’s their belief, along with most of Zuma’s backers, that Zuma was the fall guy for a corrupt president.
Andrew Feinstein, who was an ANC MP and Scopa leader, was well known for resigning when the ANC clamped down on investigations into the deal. Feinstein went on to write a book, After the Party, which had a lot to say about the process leading up to, and subsequent to, the deal’s signing.
In the book, Feinstein mentions Mbeki a few times in questionable circumstances. He alleges that Mbeki met Parliament’s joint investigations team on the arms deal to tell it who it could and could not investigate, and that Mbeki shut down both the Scopa and the British BAE inquiries into the arms deal.
Feinstein states that “I don’t think he [Mbeki] was involved in any personal corruption, I think he either solicited directly or condoned the solicitation of money from contractors prior to award of contracts for the ANC [party coffers]. In addition, Mbeki chaired the sub-committee that made all of the arms-deal contract decisions and those decisions were fundamentally flawed.” The Sunday Times also alleged in 2006 that when Mbeki was deputy president in 1998, he met executives of Thomson-CSF (now Thales) in Paris, a company that was bidding for a stake in the deal worth billions of rands.
I would not be surprised if this is exactly what Phosa and other Zuma backers on the NEC are after — a tit-for-tat investigation into Mbeki’s role that they hope will just shut the whole thing down. Unfortunately, this may also lead to the biggest crisis the ANC has ever faced, which may make the recent succession battle look like a mere playground skirmish.