The arms deal has dogged South Africa for almost its entire democratic era. Three months after the election of Thabo Mbeki as president in 2009, mayor Patricia de Lille, then a PAC MP, blew the lid off the arms deal by handing over her so-called “De Lille Dossier” to Parliament. 

The documents were said to point to widespread corruption in the purchase of weapons, aircraft, submarines and frigates from British and European manufacturers. De Lille’s request for a full judicial inquiry would set the ball rolling on a host of probes by government agencies and arms manufacturers in a 17-year campaign to get to the truth of corruption, fraud and bribery allegations. 

A deal that started under Nelson Mandela’s presidency when the defence force was reviewing its arms capability and needs in 1995 carried over into two more presidencies. 

Over the years, the arms deal investigations, conducted by independent critics and companies who won contracts through the deal, would crisscross the globe, and more critics would come on board. 

After the cabinet and Parliament approved a defence review in 1997, government issued tenders worth R12 billion for the purchase of arms. 

ANC MP Tony Yengeni visited Daimler-Chrysler Aerospace in Brazil in 1998, which would alter lead to him receive a massive discount on his new Mercedes-Benz. 

Also in 1998,k the cabinet approved a R30bn arms deal, and the Auditor-General warned the transaction was “high-risk.” 

Former defence minister, the late Joe Modise, told Parliament that the arms would only cost taxpayers R500 million a year for 15 years. 

Auditor-General Shauket Fakie, was given the go-ahead to investigate the deal, but days later, the decision was retracted. 

De Lille also handed her file to Judge Willem Heath, the head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). 

At the end of 1999, then finance minister, Trevor Manual signed the final loan and purchase agreements for a total cost of R29.9bn. 

By 2000, several probes were under way, including by Scopa and the Scorpions. The SIU, however, was denied a full presidential inquiry. 

Dissent reared its head within the ANC, as MP Andrew Feinstein insisted the deal be thoroughly investigated. 

He eventually resigned in 2001 when this was refused. 

In the same year, Yengeni was charged with fraud, forgery and perjury, and Schaibir Shaik, whose company was part of the local arms consortium, was arrested. 

Investigations also started into Zuma. 

In 2003, Yengeni was sentenced to four years in prison, as information emerged in the UK that BAE paid commissions to agents to help secure the arms deal. 

Prosecution against Schaik started in 2003, setting off claims that the national director of public prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, was an apartheid spy. 

In 2004, Zuma told Parliament that he believed the corruption claims were a “figment of the imagination.” 

But a decade later, he would be compelled by the Constitutional Court to order a commission of inquiry.
Judge Willie Seriti was tasked with investigating allegations of fraud and corruption, as well as the rationale and benefits of the R70bn purchases. 

In 2005, Shaik was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years, and Zuma was sacked as deputy president. 

In 2007, prosecutors announced that they were ready to charge Zuma. 

Soon after, more allegations of bribery emerged against other arms provider, Thyssen Krupp, but a few months later, the company said there was no evidence.

Bribery claims of R30m then emerged against Mbeki, involving German submarine consortium Ferrostaal. 

In September 2008, corruption charges against Zuma were ruled invalid, and after the judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals, the acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe, withdrew the charges. 

In October 2010, the Hawks stopped its arms deal investigation, prompting activist Terry Crawford-Browne to take up the cudgels at the Constitutional Court to order the president to appoint a commission of inquiry. 

In August 2011, it emerged that Ferrostaal paid R300m in bribes to secure the submarine deal. This report was ignored by the Seriti Commission when it finally got under way 14 years after De Lille first blew the whistle on corruption. 

Zuma received the commission’s final report in December. 


Lindsay Dentlinger – Staff Writer (Cape Argus)