The musketeers who bought the jets

It wasn’t just defence minister Joe Modise who, after being wined and dined by British Aerospace in the early Nineties, pushed through a deal for Hawk jets that South Africa could ill afford.

In this endeavour he was supported by two white South Africans, Ron Haywood and Llew Swan. How these three got together is still not entirely clear.

Swan, who now lives in Australia, befriended Modise while still an executive with defence company Reunert.

‘Reunert’s Llew Swan had been taking the incoming black elite to soccer parties in Soweto, with luxurious wining and dining in the suburbs thrown in,” remembers Richard Young, one local arms electronics manufacturer who was about to lose out on the forthcoming arms deal.

Swan confirms: ‘In the early Nineties — I am talking prior to 1996 — we, at Reunert, operated a soccer box at FNB stadium and we entertained ANC people and some of the other customers.”

Swan fell out with Reunert and resigned, and Modise appointed him to head Armscor in August 1998.

Meanwhile, European middlemen were not far behind. ‘There was a big move from the UK [United Kingdom] at the time,” remembers former secretary of defence Pierre Steyn. ‘After my retirement as a general in 1993, I was also approached to re-introduce a UK defence company into the South African market.”

During this time, Steyn says he became aware that the British embassy was building up a network of consultants and representatives in South Africa. Modise had already been wooed by British Aerospace as early as 1991, when representatives of the company had first befriended him.

Modise had also made the acquaintance of Ron Haywood, a former pilot and member of the Citizen Force Council (CFC), a volunteer division of the defence force. In the early Nineties, Haywood and other members of the CFC, including its chairperson, Ian Deetlefs, approached Modise and his allies in the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) high command: ‘simply in order to get to know these people who had been our enemies”, Haywood told the Mail & Guardian. ‘One day we were going to want to sell these guys stuff and we don’t even know them— it was a kind of BEE thing.”

The resulting relationship eventually led to Haywood being appointed chairperson of Armscor by Modise in 1995, while his CFC colleague, Deetlefs, was simultaneously appointed head of Denel.

Meanwhile, Haywood maintained a close friendship with Anglovaal chairperson Basil Hersov, who, from 1992, acted as a consultant to British Aerospace. Haywood denies that he knew that Hersov was a consultant for BAE: ‘I had no links whatsoever with the UK defence industry,” Haywood said.

Hersov and BAE agent Richard Charter paired up with Haywood in 1998 as members of the Airborne Trust, a BAE-funded venture to benefit MK veterans. ‘But I was involved out of charity only,” insists Haywood. ‘It was only much later that BAE became involved.”

A memorandum between MK and BAE is dated March 25 1998, eight months before the BAE Hawk contracts were passed.

The UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade describes the South African arms deal in a 2003 report as an ‘opportunity for BAE and others to gain effective control over the South African arms industry”.

After the arms deal was concluded in 1999, Haywood and Swan left Armscor to join their now close friend Modise in new ventures. Swan and Modise became partners of Russian arms dealer Mark Voloshin, while Modise, Haywood and Deetlefs joined up in a controversial deal with Conlog, a South African logistics and electronics company.

In March 2002 the Financial Mail broke the story of how Modise, via an entity called the Letaba Trust, obtained a significant stake in Conlog while he was still minister of defence, and when Conlog anticipated receiving important offset contracts as part of the arms deal.

Deetlefs had arranged a cosy back-to-back sale that would have netted the men millions, but inquiries launched by a subsequent shareholder led to protracted litigation and the effective collapse of the deal.

On his deathbed Modise was persuaded to place his thumb-print — he was too weak to sign by then — on a new will, which was witnessed by Swan and which placed his main asset, the Letaba Trust, under the direction of Deetlefs, together with his widow, Jackie, and another former Reunert executive, Tony Ellingford.

The original copy of the will was, however, lost, and so control reverted to Modise’s old lawyer.

According to records at the Pretoria Master’s Office, Modise’s estate contained little of material value. If BAE rewarded some of those who had helped them land the deal, it seems that either the rewards never reached Modise or that the secret of their whereabouts died with him.

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Evelyn Groenink
Evelyn Groenink works from South Africa. Investigations editor, ZAM Magazine Evelyn Groenink has over 1046 followers on Twitter.
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