Mbeki: Arms deal was to protect the country

By Drum Digital
17 July 2014

Former president Thabo Mbeki has testified that the government’s decision to enter into the multi-billion arms deal in 1999 was in line with the Constitution.

Former president Thabo Mbeki has testified that the government’s decision to enter into the multi-billion arms deal in 1999 was in line with the Constitution and the cabinet’s mandate to protect the country from harm.

Mbeki was accompanied by his wife Zanele, his former finance minister Trevor Manuel, former Trade and Industry minister Alec Erwin and his then legal advisor Mojanku Gumbi.

Giving his evidence-in-chief this morning, Mbeki said none of the members of the inter-ministerial  committee (IMC) that decided on the arms purchase acted in their personal capacity at the time.

At the time, Mbeki chaired the IMC, and said his role was a supervisory one.

The cabinet had decided on the wholesale purchase of weapon, rather than buy weapons on a “piece-meal fashion”. This is why the government’s white paper on defence was crafted.

Under cross-examination, Mbeki said the intention was to give the public a sense of ownership of a defence force that had been known for suppression and destablising the (southern African) region.

Asked about other socio-economic budget priorities at the time the money could have been spent on, Mbeki said the government had to balance expenditure on issues such as health and education, with defence spending.

He painted a picture of an under-resourced post 1994 army, which had the navy but no ships to sail on.

Things got heated when Paul Advocated Hoffman, for businessman Terry Crawford-Browne, cross-examined Mbeki about some of the key events leading to the decision.

He asked  what military eventualities Mbeki was aware of that necessitated the arms deal, prompting Mbeki to say his personal views were not different from those set out in the defence white paper at the time.

Hoffman then asked Mbeki if he was aware that the corvettes were not being used. Mbeki said he never checked on the operations of the submarines and ships while he was in government.

The advocate also tried to quiz Mbeki about the role of the late defence minister ­­--who he referred to as Mbeki’s “king-maker”, suggesting he had put Mbeki in power—but Mbeki refused to answer on Modise’s behalf.

Similarly he refused to answer question about the appointment of Mo Shaik as the consular-general to the German city of Hamburg, saying such decision were made by the department of international relations.

Mbeki also said he could not recall the letter Schabir Shaik allegedly wrote to an arms company on behalf of then ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

At some point, Hoffman lost his temper and said he was concerned that they could be participating “in a farce”, rather than a commission that attempted to uncover the truth.

He insisted that he wanted his questions answered by Mbeki, rather than his “minions”.

Mbeki hit back: “I am worried about Hoffman referring to my colleagues as minions. They might be minions in his eyes. It's offensive.”

Hoffman, apologised saying he was referring to lowers-ranking officials, not cabinet ministers.

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