Arms deal: It's Mbeki vs Hoffman


Former president Thabo Mbeki  took on Advocate Paul Hoffman, labeling his style of cross-examination “superior” and “patronising”.

Mbeki , who is the last witness in the first phase of the arms deal probe by the Seriti Commission, had been testifying about his role in the decision to acquire the weapons for billions of rand in the late 1990s.

This prompted Hoffman to break down and cry, and blamed the medicines he is taking following a death in his family.

Hoffman and Mbeki got off on a bad note when the advocate insisted he would address him as “Mr Mbeki” instead of “President” or “former president” because Nelson Mandela refused those titles when he stepped down in 1999.

At some point the advocate referred to Mbeki’s former cabinet colleagues—some of whom, like Trevor Manuel, had already testified before the commission-- as “minions”, but later apologised for the misunderstanding.

At some point Hoffman cited a newspaper article in which the ANC leadership was quoted as saying it wanted Mbeki to  “come clean”  on the arms deal, but Mbeki dismissed it as a “fabrication”.

Pressed to comment on another article, Mbeki said: “Why must I respond to the opinions of newspapers”.

The last straw seems to have been Hoffman’s request  that Mbeki should read bits that refer to him in a book, and file a response with the commission.

Advocate Marumo Moerane, for the government and Mbeki, objected to Mbeki being given “home work”.

“This is not a school,” he said.

After Hoffman had  suggested that Mbeki had lied about an alleged meeting with the French about the arms deal, Mbeki took offence. He explained that there are no records of the alleged meeting, and neither does the French government have any records.

Mbeki then went on to address the commission about Hoffman’s style of cross-examination.

“He addresses us in a very condescending manner. He is very superior."

“Earlier, he made a remark that when Advocate Moerane intervened about some matter that the reason he was doing that was to give me time some time to cook up something.

“I am raising this chairperson. I don’t know what can be done about it.  Perhaps there’s no way to change South Africa. He’s got a particular attitude, very superior, very condescending, full of these insulting things. I do hope that all of us understand that we are doing something to build a new society. We have to make a special effort to take out of our bloodstream things that have become ingrained,” he said.

Hoffman apologised for behaving “particularly badly”, and sobbed as her spoke about his personal circumstances.

“Like you, I’d like to build a new South Africa.. and that our constitution is implemented and that ordinary people enjoy the rights in our bill of rights,” he said.

Mbeki 's testimony continues.

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