Fana Hlongwane: Is it because I’m black?

2014-12-11 17:08

Fana Hlongwane, the former special adviser to the late defence minister Joe Modise, has described arms deal critics as a “lunatic fringe” which did not want to accept that a democratic and African government bought arms in a manner that was above board.

Hlongwane, who earlier withdrew his application to bar the media from taking and publishing photographs or videos of him during his testimony, said his accusers were “racist” for singling him out for having a role in influencing the arms deal contracts because he was black.

“There is a lunatic fringe that refuses to accept democratic outcomes and then you get this unintended subliminal racist kind of narrative that plays into this. You further get the de-legitimisation of this thing called the Seriti Commission,” said Hlongwane, who apologised for causing all the “drama” by refusing to have his pictures taken.

This had delayed the start of proceedings with reporters frantically calling their bosses to summon lawyers to legally oppose Hlongwane’s application to bar the media.

When proceedings began two hours later, a philosophical Hlongwane, whose testimony was expected to shed more light on accusations that he was paid millions of rands to influence arms deal contracts, stole the show and castigated the country’s legal system and demanded to see the evidence against him.

Hlongwane, who lives in KwaZulu-Natal and joined Modise as adviser in December 1994, did not deny that he was paid millions of rands as a consultant for arms dealer British American Aerospace but questioned why a private contract between two parties should be probed by a third, unaffected party.

Asked about the terms of the contract he signed with British American Aerospace, Hlongwane said: “That is a matter for those two entities. I do not think (arms deal critics Andrew) Feinstein, (Paul) Holden or whoever, have any right to question that. However, it would be strange indeed to run a process based on quantum. I say this because there’s many cases I read in the papers all the time, everybody is congratulated on quantum but for some strange reason, and I’m sure the commissioners will help me on this, I’m castigated for quantum,” said Hlongwane, dressed in a blue designer jacket and blue stripped shirt.

He questioned whether, because he was black, he should not have entered into a contract with the British.

Hlongwane, who left the defence department in 1998 and joined Denel as director that same year, lectured commissioners and evidence leaders on why reconciliation, without addressing the underlying economic inequalities in South Africa, is a problem which should be tackled immediately.

“You may be tempted to think that there are people who are suited by quantum and others not suited by quantum. Part of a narrative of a democratic dispensation is redefining the property and power relations. I have many friends in the taxi industry, but surely our people cannot be relegated to the taxi industry where we kill each other and shoot each other. The narrative of democracy is that we should improve all of us. We should live like all other people and you cannot criminalise a businessman purely because of quantum,” said Hlongwane.

He said his business acumen should be praised in the same manner that the annual list of the richest people in South Africa was “celebrated”.

“There are huge amounts on newspapers on the richest people it was quantum and it was celebrated, so maybe the commission will assist me why is it an issue when there are many other people who received greater quantums, they may be Smiths, Parkers and Van Zyls, but why is it a problem in our case? I have a small problem there but I’m sure the commissioner will be able to tell me, what is it that I must tell my children? Have I ventured into sacred holly land that I am not supposed to go into?

Is this a mechanism to say people like you must not venture into that area again... to be taught a lesson? Did I go through without a visa into a space that is reserved for others? This is because when you begin to look at the issues... the fundamental question to me is no evidence has been led about my influencing or doing anything untoward. If no evidence has been led, again I say it with respect, I am here now but I’m wondering why am I here? If the issue is quantums then my fellow consultants should be here with me,” said Hlongwane.

He lashed the commission for hauling former President Thabo Mbeki to testify in the commission despite all evidence leaders and critics failing to produce a single shred of evidence of impropriety against him.

“I will not and I will not support the inferiority mindset that I am supposed to be a victim of. I assert my rights. We fought for liberation which entailed as the Constitution states, the right to trade, economic activity, regardless of colour, regardless of race, regardless of gender. But we cannot here legitimise a situation where historical property and power relations are perpetuated, we cannot do that. This commission cannot legitimise that,” said Hlongwane.

He praised South Africa’s decision to buy arms because no one in South Africa was running away from warlords.

“This was an African project by a democratic government to redefine the defence and security architecture and it must do so on its own; nobody interferes with procurement programmes of any country the US and many others. But our procurement programme must be commented on and people come here and bring 40 organisations from the US and arrange press conferences to comment on our procurement programme.

“It was indeed the case that the CNN images showed pictures of African children running away from warlords but what we’ve done was civil security architecture. We’ve created a situation where no South African was running away from warlords. Our people are safe thanks to the same procurement. You (commissioners) need to draw a line and move on but indeed to move on all of us need to be the new Voortrekkers into this new SA.

“We need to do it in practice and it’s not about the wonderful story of reconciliation or rainbow nation... it is about fundamentally with the greatest of respect, about addressing the property and power relations. We need to address poverty and inequality then you get reconciliation. You cannot start with reconciliation and hope to get the other product... you will not and you cannot do that. All of us black and white must jointly address the challenges of poverty and inequality and in that process the racial dynamic will be addressed. So to perpetuate the notion commissioners that a Hlongwane or any other person must justify themselves what they earn in a private commercial transaction. Is it because I am black?” asked Hlongwane.

After Hlongwane had told the commission that not a single shred of evidence had been presented against him by all his accusers, and categorically denying influencing anyone or attending any meetings in the arms deal process, he was asked to step down. He did not face a single question from any of the lawyers, including those from arms deal critics. Judge Willie Seriti announced that the commission will resume in the first week of January.

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