Mzansi Afrika

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Friday, June 17, 2005

Arms Deal?

An aspect of Thabo Mbeki's speech in parliament about the axing of Zuma, that I found interesting, was the President's emphasis on the arms deal. Before addressing the issue of Zuma, Mbeki spent some time talking about the the report made by the Joint Investigation Team of the Auditor-General, the Public Protector and the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions into the defence procurement process.

Mbeki emphasised the report's conclusions that "No evidence was found of any improper or unlawful conduct by the Government. The irregularities and improprieties … point to the conduct of certain officials of the government departments involved and cannot … be ascribed to the President or the Ministers involved in their capacity as members of the Ministers’ Committee or Cabinet. There are therefore no grounds to suggest that the Government’s contracting position is flawed."

I think it's significant that he chose to bring this up in this particular speech in a special joint sitting of Parliament, the same speech that dealt with the axing of Zuma. In effect Mbeki was letting the public know on this solemn and somewhat momentous occasion, that the Joint Investigation Team's report was the conclusive last word on the issue, and he seemed to be making it clear that he would not tolerate any further re-opening of investigation's into the arms deal.

As Tony Leon of the DA, and the leaders of the FF+ and the HNP praised Mbeki's courageous decision to release Zuma, they also took the opportunity to call for a renewed investigation into the arms deal. According to Leon, "This day will be remembered as a landmark in our nation’s history. But the fight against corruption is far from over. It is only beginning. We know the arms deal has already claimed many political casualties ... The truth haunts South Africa like an angry and vengeful ghost. It will not be put to rest until we finally conduct a full independent judicial investigation into the arms deal and the corruption at the heart of it. There are those who believe that the Honourable Jacob Zuma is the victim of a conspiracy. Only a complete examination of the facts can quell their fears."

It is true that over the past few years our political landscape has suffered many casualties as a result of the arms deal and the corruption that has tainted it. Tony Yengeni, ANC Chief Whip and MP was brought down, no great loss in my opinion. Of greater concern was the loss of Bulelani Ngcuka, under who's leadership we saw a strong and independent NPA. There was the ugliness and suspicion engendered by the Hefer Commission which ultimately proved nothing.

Then was the Shaik trial and the axing of Zuma, positive developments on one level, in the sense that this saw Mbeki smelling of roses as he came out as a strong leader taking a stance against corruption. It also proved the independence of the judiciary and a commitment to abide by our constitution. However, ultimately the country loses as politics get bogged down in a sea of suspicion and tension, our image is tarnished in top stories on CNN and the BBC, and no matter what - it looks bad to have to axe your deputy president.

Tony Leon and other opposition politicians say that without a new investigation, the arms deal will continue to haunt us. So I guess my question is - do we really need, or want a new investigation into the arms deal? Is this the end of it, was Zuma as far as it goes, or will the issue keep coming back to bite us on the bum with devastating political consequences? Why is Mbeki so dead set against a new investigation, is he trying to hide something? If Mbeki is trying to cover up - who else is implicated and does it go up to the top office in the land? If it does go all the way to the top, do we really want to know about it - wouldn't the political fallout ultimately be worse for the country than a few million rands under the table? I mean it's not as if this kind of thing doesn't happen in the great western democracies - or is it all about moral principles?

And my final point, I don't care if I sound like a two year old stamping my foot, but I think it's damn unfair that the overseas arms companies get away unscathed without being penalised too.


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