Book review: The Arms Deal in Your Pocket

2009-01-21 00:00

Author Paul Holden successfully unbundles South Africa’s controversial arms deal offering readers clear insight into what he himself describes as this country’s biggest post-apartheid scandal.

Perhaps a backhanded compliment to Holden is the fact that his book was extensively used by another author in the Jonathan Ball stable. Jeremy Gordin quotes extensively from this work for his biography on ANC President Jacob Zuma.

Gordin, according to reports, did not sufficiently acknowledge his use of Holden’s book and the publisher, Jonathan Ball, has since sorted out the matter by awarding Holden monetary compensation.

In years to come, as the history of South Africa’s young democracy is written, many more authors will feel indebted to Holden for presenting a simple, understandable and very readable account of the complex and intriguing arms deal. The author gives a chronological account of the deal and its cover-ups. He explains who was involved, unpacks technical armament technology and, most interestingly, shows how the cover-ups tarnished individuals and institutions, and severly undermined the country’s fledgling democracy. Each chapter starts with an information box explaining the material covered with key dates. However, what is going to prove most useful are the comprehensive appendices which list the players involved, their links to each other, as well as a detailed time line spanning a period from 1989 to 2008.

Nalini Naidoo

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