Thabo Mbeki gets angry at arms deal inquiry

2014-07-17 14:57

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Former President Thabo Mbeki has angrily hit out at anti-arms deal crusader Terry Crawford-Browne’s legal representative Paul Hoffman for referring to his former cabinet colleagues as “minions”.

Mbeki was responding to a volley of questions during his testimony at the Seriti Arms Procurement Commission regarding allegations by Hoffman that the late former minister of defence Joe Modise was his “kingmaker” in the ANC.

Hoffman had to be called to order by commission chairperson Judge Willie Seriti when he (Hoffman) asked Mbeki whether he thought Modise’s alleged instruction during a defence meeting that the escalating costs of purchasing arms should not be discussed, was “unconstitutional”.

Before Hoffman posed the question to Mbeki, he objected to Seriti refusing to allow him to ask the questions.

“I’ve come here today not to deal with minions but to deal with the man at the top. We have aeroplanes but no one to fly them, I beg you to think about it. What have we done, what has your cabinet done?” asked Hoffman before Seriti called him to order.

As Seriti was adjourning the hearing for lunch, Mbeki requested permission to address the commission.

“I must say I’m really quite angry at Mr Hoffman talking about my colleagues as minions. They might be minions in his eyes but I don’t think he’s entitled to make that statement,” he said.

Hoffman quickly explained that he was not referring to Mbeki’s colleagues in cabinet who deserved the respect of the public, but officials of the department of defence.

Earlier, Hoffman accused Seriti of turning the commission into a “farce” by refusing him an opportunity to pose certain questions to Mbeki.

But Mbeki later agreed with Hoffman’s view that the statement attributed to Modise would have been illegal if he had made it.

“We did not sit in the department meetings. I chaired the inter-ministerial committee. It would have been illegal for us to say let’s not discuss the costs. Mr Modise might have said that to his department but we sat as a committee and this matter did not come to the ministerial committee,” said Mbeki.

Mbeki was accompanied by his wife Zanele and former cabinet colleagues on the ministerial committee - Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin and Mosiuoa Lekota. He appeared unhappy when Hoffman referred to Modise as Mbeki’s “kingmaker” in the ANC.

Hoffman had suggested that Mbeki had ambitions to succeed the late president Nelson Mandela in the ANC with the help of Modise.

But Mbeki’s lawyer, Marumo Moerane, took exception to Hoffman’s “wild” allegations. The matter was closed when Seriti instructed Hoffman not to make “unhelpful” references about the ANC.

Seriti told Mbeki not to respond to another question by Hoffman regarding “donations” allegedly made by British defence firm BAE Systems to the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans - the ANC’s now defunct military wing of which Modise was head.

Mbeki was consistent in his testimony, reiterating that members of the inter-ministerial committee made up of cabinet members were guided by their constitutional mandate when they discharged their duties in the arms deal.

“It is important to make the point that none of the members of the inter ministerial committee acted in their personal capacities when executing the functions as members of the executive,” said Mbeki.

He added that he was making this statement because many incorrect statements regarding individuals had been made publicly since arms deal contracts were signed.

“There’s been a lot of public comment, some of which has suggested that there was something constitutionally wrong with government going for these contracts in respect of the needs of the people,” said Mbeki.

He added that government was fully aware of criticism on spending on weapons while the country needed reconstruction and development.

Mbeki said the government had taken “all views” into account. It had also considered the costs involved in the procurement.

Mbeki’s former director-general Reverend Frank Chikane is not scheduled to testify in the commission. However, he accompanied Mbeki to the commission hearing and sat behind him when giving testimony.

Chikane later said that his attendance at the proceedings was important since he was involved in the decisions taken on the arms deal.

The hearing continues.

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