/ 19 January 2007

How arms dealer got its hooks into the ANC

Relationships between the ANC and the British government, a passionate marketing agent for BAE, go way back. So do political and military relations between South Africa and the United Kingdom, which maintained strong security links with the apartheid state.

At the same time, the British were ‘well in” with the ANC’s London office, where prominent ANC leaders Thabo Mbeki and Aziz Pahad were based.

‘This is where we have tea with MI6,” Aziz Pahad, now deputy foreign affairs minister, told me in 1989.

He added: ‘Of course they are looking to talk with us. The future is very close and we have to prepare.”

Whether arms contracts were mentioned is not known. But it stands to reason that the British would have wanted their old colony to look to them for weapons supplies.

In 1990, the ANC negotiating team had moved to South Africa, where it met Robin Renwick, the British ambassador to South Africa and a key player in the transition.

Alongside Renwick, Eric Morris, a former Sandhurst military lecturer provided ‘consultancy services” to the ANC military.

BAE entered the scene as early as 1991. That year, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veterans assembled in Venda learned that a British Aerospace delegation was interested in helping unemployed veterans start new lives.

A former MK source remembers: ‘We couldn’t understand why it was so secretive; why these men were only meeting [MK commander Joe] Modise and his friends.

‘We were told this information could not be brought into the open because we were still sometimes perceived as ‘terrorists’ and these people didn’t want to be seen helping us.”

By 1992, it became clear that the help consisted of expensive dinners and outings for officials of MK High Command, and predominantly Modise.

Officially, the meetings were about integrating MK into the regular army. ‘But there was something fishy about it,” says the MK source.

Chris Hani, say MK sources, was suspicious. Modise, on the other hand, was the ‘business-friendly” protagonist in the MK High Command.

Modise was a frequent guest at British Aerospace representative Guy Jackson’s flat in Illovo. Jackson’s partner, Victoria Buxton, also allegedly played a role in business negotiations with MK. A former neighbour of the Jackson family, Elmie Eksteen, remembers that ‘Guy, Victoria and Joe Modise were discussing a Barclays loan for an aircraft deal in 1993”.

Members of the prominent Buxton family had served on the board of Barclays in Britain.

All involved deny these allegations. Jackson admitted he dealt with Modise on another deal, but said they ‘only met for the first time in London in 1994”.

At the time, Jackson said, he represented Denel and as such tried to market the South African Rooi­valk in Britain. He also said he was involved with a BAE project in South Africa, ‘but that concerned pilot training”. Jackson also denied that Victoria Buxton was involved.

Nevertheless, information unearthed by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) suggests BAE relied on a combination of old and new contacts.

Richard Charter, who represented the company in the sanctions years, put his operation into top gear, at one point flying to London every week to strategise with BAE. Charter was often seen at Modise’s side, or with his adviser, Fana Hlongwane.

‘Fana visited the ministry with BAE people all the time between 1994 and 1999,” a defence official said.

The SFO alleges Hlongwane was rewarded handsomely by BAE under a 2002 consultancy agreement, albeit long after the contracts were signed in 2000.

In 1992, BAE also signed a consultancy agreement with FTNSA Consulting, led, apparently by Basil Hersov, former chair of Barclays South Africa. In 1995, when BAE donated R5-million to a fund for MK veterans, Hersov joined Modise, Charter and Hlongwane for the festivities. Hersov, an ex-member of PW Botha’s defence council, was later appointed chair of the Airborne Trust, which administered the MK fund.

And in 1994, according to the SFO, BAE signed an agreement with Kayswell Services, allegedly represented by Jules Pelissier, business partner of Zimbabwean arms dealer John Bredenkamp.

By now Modise was defence minister and developing close ties with figures in Armscor, which, in the sanctions years, made alliances in the murky world of illegal arms trading.

When the newly elected ANC government embarked on the arms acquisition programme, checks and balances were put in place. The theory was that no individual could influence the outcome.

But the government also came to the table with clear political preferences.

‘It was a political decision,” says one senior ex-military source. ‘Even if the system for acquisition was transparent, the question for the lobbyists would become: how do we work the system so that the preferences are honoured?”

It was perhaps for this purpose that so many different people within the acquisitions process had to be approached.

‘Someone like Fana [Hlongwane] would see the money bags hanging in the air and immediately market himself, saying ‘I am your man, I know everybody,” says a defence department source.

In 1997, BAE South Africa was incorporated, with ANC KwaZulu-Natal cadre Diliza Mji as a director.

Mji would later partner Thabo Mbeki’s brother, Moeletsi, in DGD Technologies, which was to become a shareholder in BAE Land Systems.

BAE’s efforts to get Armscor, the defence department and MK High Command to line up could still have come to nought if other ministers, notably then deputy president Mbeki, had objected.

But Mbeki wanted the arms deal to cement an economic partnership with Europe. ‘His vision is and was about African Renaissance and vital partnerships with the West in achieving that. Based on that vision, it was clear that the UK should get a good slice of the contracts,” says a source close to the process.

It is not clear if paid lobbyists like Hersov, later a member of Mbeki’s Economic Advisory Panel, contributed to this vision, or happily linked into it.

But either way, a picture has emerged in which nobody would stand in the way of what BAE wanted. Whether South Africa needed this remains the big question.


M&G Newspaper