Power, information and secrecy

2013-04-25 00:00

FOLLOWING the death of Margaret Thatcher, local media have covered the views of her supporters and detractors. But there has been little mention of the arms scandals that dogged her government, especially the “arms-to-Iraq” affair that saw British-linked weapons used against the country’s own soldiers during the Gulf War.

In his book In the Public Interest, Gerald James, chairperson in the eighties of Astra Holdings, a leading arms manufacturer, provides chilling detail of the covert arms trade to both Iran and Iraq during Thatcher’s tenure. Of interest to South Africans is what James says about her government’s stance on sanctions against the apartheid regime; and Thatcher’s extremely close relationship with a South African-linked arms consultant known as Stephanus Adolf Kock.

James argues that reliance on chrome and other strategic minerals ruled out trade sanctions during the cold war. Despite the United Nations arms embargo, Armscor played a pivotal role in the arms trade. Central to sanctions busting, and to covert arms deals all over the world, was Kock. James claims that Kock was deliberately placed in Astra as part of a takeover cabal. Reputedly of east European birth, Kock was officially described as having emigrated to Rhodesia in his teens, but also referred to as an Afrikaner.

Coincidentally, Thatcher’s resignation came amid an alleged cover-up of the aborted Supergun project involving Iraq. Gerald Bull, the brains behind this project, was murdered and allegations of a whitewash continued, with much of the report of the Scott Commission suppressed by the government.

James’s book is a depressing reminder of the power of arms cartels and the difficulty of exposing their nefarious activities. As the finishing touches are being put to the Protection of State Information Act, South Africans should take James’s warning very seriously: ‘Secrecy breeds corruption, secrecy is power, information is power, particularly confidential information”.

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