Swedish TV reveals fresh claims in South Africa’s arms deal

On Wednesday night Sweden's Channel 4 investigative programme Kalla Fakta (Cold Facts) broadcast a new take on corruption allegations related to the sale of Saab Gripen jet fighters to South Africa in 1999.

The programme focused on the role of Stefan Löfven – a former head of the Swedish industrial union IF Metall, and the current leader of the Social Democratic party leading the polls in the run up to election in 2014.

In 1999 Löfven was the head of Metall's international section and – according to the programme – a good friend of Moses Mayekiso, the former general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa).

The focus of the programme was the odd agreement announced in July 1999 when Numsa and the South African National Civics Organisation (Sanco) announced their joint support for the Saab Gripen bid.

The public support, from what were touted as "two of South Africa's largest labour and community organisations", was crucial at a time when government was considering postponing the jet purchase due to budget constraints.

Mayekiso had by then left Numsa to lead Sanco, though he remained influential within the union. The announcement referred to "reciprocal agreements", by which Saab would support Numsa in establishing an Industrial School modelled on Saab's advanced training facility in Sweden and noted that the initiative was supported by Metall and another big Swedish union.

But rumours that the Saab-Metall initiative was a cover for the payment of dubious sweeteners or commissions were already swirling.

Arms deal activist Terry Crawford-Browne has written: "In December 1998 I was invited by Numsa to participate in a workshop in Johannesburg on the arms deal … Numsa officials then informed me that additional bribes of R30-million were being laundered … via two Swedish trade unions, ostensibly to fund an industrial training school but, in reality, to bribe South African parliamentarians to support the arms deal."

The allegations were aired by Crawford-Browne and then Pan-Africanist Congress MP Patricia de Lille in late 1999 as part of the initial arms deal dossier – but no real evidence was forthcoming. Now Cold Facts has gone back to old Numsa sources and records to demonstrate that, at the very least, there was something to hide.

The Swedish journalists accessed Numsa central committee minutes that show there was serious concern within the union following the Crawford-Browne revelations.

One extract notes: "The allegations made … around the union receiving kick-backs… should not be ignored … there is a great need to institute an investigation to clear the organisation."

Numsa's then newly appointed general secretary Silumko Nondwangu and the Numsa Central Committee convened an internal investigation.

"We decided that we would send a delegation to Sweden to investigate the allegations, speak to our Swedish counterparts, speak to anyone else in Sweden who would know exactly about whether Numsa would have been offered a school as an off-set to the arms deal," Nondwangu told Swedish television.

The minutes uncovered by the Swedish investigation are more blunt: "The NOB [National Office Bearers] sensitise the meeting [about] the suggested trip … The meeting was cautioned by the NOBs that it seems the aim of the trip is to win the hearts and minds of the comrades that will be sent to Sweden … "

In June 2000 Numsa training coordinator Melanie Samson, treasurer Philemon Shiburi and central committee member Petrus Ncgobo arrived in Sweden.

Löfven played the central role in hosting the visit. The day after their arrival they were taken to the Linköping aircraft factory for a meeting with Metall and Saab.

Ngcobo told Swedish journalists the delegation was concerned about a missing page or paragraphs in the purported agreement which had been signed on the union's behalf: "Why is this clause missing? To us it was not as if it was not a mistake."

Shiburi says on camera: "They continued denying that there is a page missing and we left the meeting without getting the final page which we were looking for."

The visitors took an early plane home, but a few weeks later, received confirmation that the missing page really indeed existed. It has been sent to Numsa's leadership, but the text of two paragraphs is blackened out.

Numsa decided to distance itself from any project linked to the arms deal, but continued to seek assistance from Metall for an anti-Aids programme.

Nondwangu told the Mail & Guardian: "During our investigations we could not even make out the agreement supposedly signed by Numsa and the union because there were pages missing and words blocked out. On that basis we could not make out a conclusion.

"We remained suspicious that something could have happened we don't know what but because no one would own up we decided to close the investigations."

Numsa's current deputy general secretary Karl Cloete said the union's leadership elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012 had no knowledge of any agreement entered into by Numsa. 

"When Patrica De Lille made the allegations in Parliament alleging that Numsa was involved in the arms deal we wanted to establish the facts. We can say without fear of contradiction that Numsa did not receive a school nor millions as a spin off from the arms deal. Numsa is on record as saying that we shall avail ourselves in any investigation of the arms deal whether in South African or Sweden."

Cloete added that when his union declined the training school, the Swedes then handed over money and machines to various Further Education and Training colleges, one being Tshwane South College.

SAAB and Svenska Metall deny that there were any irregularities – as does Mayekiso. Metall says they have no record of the agreement. SAAB says it is confidential. 

Swedes, like South Africans, still want answers.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Sam Sole Author
Guest Author
Tabelo Timse &
Guest Author
Sam Sole
Sam Sole works from South Africa. Journalist and managing partner of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. Digging dirt, fertilising democracy. Sam Sole has over 17731 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

Forensic probe fingers CEO at Sedibeng Water

A lifeline to the driest parts of SA's north west has been wracked by allegations of tender fraud, leading to the suspension of two of its officials.

Dodgy World Cup deal comes back to bite Free State premier Ace Magashule

A businessman claims that his company was used as a front for an entity allegedly close to Magashule to supply R9.5M worth of soccer regalia.

Van Rooyen parked off in luxury hotel

Hundreds of thousands of rands have been spent while Des van Rooyen's official home is readied.

‘Choose between mining and bloodshed’

Anti-mining activists in Melmoth, KwaZulu-Natal are living in fear of their lives in a scenario that echoes the Xolobeni unease on the Wild Coast.

Paraffin for poor fuels outrage

A R171-million contract, now under investigation, is seen as an ANC image-building exercise

Judge Seriti has left the building

As the commission of inquiry into the arms deal wrapped up this week, the M&G's Sarah Evans looks back at the controversy.

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Hawks swoop down with more arrests in R1.4-billion corruption blitz

The spate of arrests for corruption continues apace in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.

Catholic NGO boss accused of racism and abuse in Sudan

The aid worker allegedly called his security guard a ‘slave’

Agrizzi too ill to be treated at Bara?

The alleged crook’s “health emergency” — if that is what it is — shows up the flaws, either in our health system or in our leadership as a whole

SANDF hid R200m expenditure on ‘Covid’ drug it can’t use

Military health officials are puzzled by the defence department importing a drug that has not been approved for treating coronavirus symptoms from Cuba

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday