The Mail & Guardian has defended its report that Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe promised Nigeria weapons in exchange for the repatriation of the bodies of those killed in a building collapse in Lagos. This after the government rubbished the claim and said no bartering took place.
M&G editor Angela Quintal said the article was supported by documents and information from government ministers and officials.
“It includes correspondence from Minister Radebe to the Hawks and internal emails from senior government officials,” she said.
“The email trail clearly shows that these officials were discussing the minister’s request that the investigation be halted and that they were concerned about this.”
She was reacting to a statement in which government spokesperson Phumla Williams said: “Government places it on record that no form of bartering with Nigeria was conducted during the repatriation process.”
Williams had issued the statement in response to a M&G report that Radebe secured the return of the bodies by promising Nigeria it would ensure that an arms sale worth about R100-million, which had been blocked by South Africa, would proceed.
Nigeria apparently wanted the arms, including helicopters and ammunition, to fight against Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.
The newspaper claims to have seen two letters written by Radebe in which he sought to help Nigeria get the weapons.
“Government is disappointed with the M&G‘s attempt to discredit the collaborative efforts of the South African and Nigerian governments to repatriate the bodies of South Africans that died in Nigeria,” said Williams.
“The M&G report, which clearly holds no water, ignores the fact that South African citizens died outside our borders, and therefore we had to work within the framework of Nigeria’s laws and policies.”
Williams said the use of unnamed sources in the article was tantamount to bringing the repatriation process into disrepute.
The newspaper reported that in October, the Asset Forfeiture Unit seized $5.7-million wired to the Standard Bank SA. Three weeks beforehand, $9.3m was confiscated after being brought into the country in suitcases by an apparent Nigerian delegation.
The newspaper reported that Radebe, in his letters to the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations and to the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), sought to help the Nigerian government to get the weapons.
In the letters, Radebe, who chairs the arms control committee, allegedly said it had come to the committee’s attention that the failed attempt on September 5 to pay an arms dealer in South Africa “was, in fact, a legitimate requirement from the government of Nigeria”.
The minister was accused of asking the head of the NCACC to supply the authorisation. Hawks spokesman Paul Ramaloko is quoted as saying an investigation was continuing into the arms money.
On September 12, 116 people, among them 84 South Africans (three of them foreigners using South African travel papers), were killed in the collapse of a multi-storey guest house attached to the Synagogue Church of all Nations in Lagos.
On November 16, the remains of 74 of them arrived in South Africa. At the time, Radebe said a health department employee who was assisting with the repatriation in Nigeria had also died after contracting malaria. – Sapa