Keeping scoundrels armed and dangerous

2009-08-08 00:00

THE credibility of the South African government is being white-anted from within. President Jacob Zuma’s administration is being brought into international disrepute, our hard-won, albeit patchy, diplomatic credibility is being squandered.

South Africa has an admirably high-toned ethical policy of not selling military equipment to countries where it might contribute to internal repression and the violation of human rights, as well as to regions of conflict and political instability. Yet it now emerges that we are quite happy flogging all kinds of arms and military kit to Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and North Korea.

The equipment includes multiple-grenade launchers, rocket-powered glide-bombs capable of delivering nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, sniper and assault rifles.

Treaties and United Nations resolutions are being flouted secretly and rogue states are being supported illegally. One must expect that a “third force” — much loved by the African National Congress as an explanation for everything, from municipal strikers upending dustbins to comradely knifings at ANC Youth League meetings — will be blamed for these transgressions.

According to leaked information, the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) has been granting approval for illegal and unethical sales at inquorate meetings, sometimes on the say-so of a single official. Since an ethical arms trade and foreign policy are at the centre of the ANC’s post-1994 policy framework, it is clear that the NCACC must have been hijacked, probably by apartheid regime fascists who sold arms to anyone who could raise the dosh.

So it is puzzling that the response of the ANC is not an immediate investigation by the intelligence services or a judicial inquiry, but is to crucify the messenger. Those who are supposed to be providing parliamentary oversight of the NCACC’s activities have pilloried the Democratic Alliance’s defence spokesman, David Maynier, who exposed the deals after receiving what he believes to be credible information.

Nyami Booi, chair of the National Assembly’s oversight committee on Defence, responded with a marvellously incoherent explanation, even by ANC standards, of why it would not investigate Maynier’s claims. “I don’t know what they are talking about. It’s gossip and rumour. It’s stolen information and that ... is very dangerous,” Booi fulminated.

The DA’s claims cannot be both gossip and rumour on the one hand, as well as stolen information on the other. If the former, the parliamentary oversight committee merely needs to state unequivocally that the claims are untrue. If the latter, what matters is whether the NCACC is acting inappropriately or illegally, and why the oversight committee failed to notice.

The supposed DA complicity in the “theft” of national secrets is a separate issue. If the NCACC has acted within its remit, prosecute Maynier. If the NCACC has exceeded its authority while Booi and pals snoozed, give Maynier the Order of the Baobab for protecting the interests of the nation.

There are probably good reasons for Booi not to want to uncover the truth. Nor, most likely, will the truth reflect too well on the DA, the parliamentary team of which has until now dozed in its watchdog role.

Firstly, Booi would have to explain why the NCACC has not filed an annual report, as legally required, for the past five years. Secondly, despite its ostensible independence, the NCACC is chaired by a cabinet minister, so the president and his ministers know of and, most importantly, approve its every decision.

When the gales of ANC bluster die down, one can predict that no sinister political interest groups hijacked the arms authorisation process. More mundanely, it will be rote bureaucratic incompetence and the greasing of key palms by some unpleasant governments keen to fast-forward the stocking of their arsenals.

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