Arms deal inquiry: It’s a wrap

Judge Willie Seriti made his final remarks at the close of the commission on Monday, and the official, final day of the commission, was Tuesday.

Seriti said the commission had heard 56 witnesses since its establishment in November, 2011. He said the commission’s work had “not been plain sailing” but that the commission believed it had managed to overcome its obstacles.

The commission was supposed to complete its work within 12 months but its term was repeatedly extended. Seriti said the commission would probably hand its report to President Jacob Zuma in December this year.

The commission began with a series of high-profile resignations. Researcher Kate Painting resigned in March 2013.

In a statement released to the Mail & Guardian shortly afterwards, Painting said: “Fear is a common theme at the commission and any non-compliance with the second agenda is met with hostility.”

The third commissioner, Judge Francis Legodi, resigned in August that year. He did not give reasons for his resignation, and the commission continued with two commissioners.

But it was the resignation of Norman Moabi, a senior investigator at the commission, in January 2013, that really shone a light into the commission’s inner-workings. Moabi also accused Seriti of operating with a “second agenda”. He challenged Seriti to take a lie detector test, and said he would also take one. Seriti did not oblige. Moabi accused Seriti of having a “total obsession” with the flow of information, amongst other things.

Then, in August last year, two evidence leaders, Barry Skinner SC and Carol Sibiya, resigned. Two weeks later, their damning resignation letter was reported in the media. The two complained that they were not given access to key documents, and that they were prevented from cross-examining witnesses.

And they were critical of a decision by Seriti that a report into an arms company, Ferrostaal’s activities, was not allowed to be introduced as evidence.

Seriti said the report was confidential and Ferrostaal had not waived confidentiality. The report shows how Ferrostaal paid R300-million to middlemen, allegedly to influence the sale of submarines to South Africa.

As the commission progressed, so-called “critics” of the arms deal began to signal that all was not well. Dr Richard Young, a fierce critic of the arms deal, told the Mail & Guardian he believed witnesses at the commission were committing “perjury by omission”.

Fearful that witnesses were not being thoroughly cross-examined, author Paul Holden cross-examined a witness. He, too, believed that a one-sided narrative was emerging: during the commission’s early days, witnesses from the army and the navy were not properly being interrogated. Holden’s colleagues, authors Andrew Feinstein and Hennie van Vuuren, joined Holden and Young in complaining that they were not given adequate time or access to mountains of documentation necessary for preparing for their evidence.

Holden, Van Vuuren and Feinstein later withdrew their participation in the commission.

Fears abounded that the “critics” were being set up as conspirators, and that the commission was not prepared to engage with evidence: leaked reports and prior official investigations that suggested corruption.

Meanwhile, former cabinet ministers Alec Erwin, Ronnie Kasrils, Trevor Manuel and Thabo Mbeki told the commission that the entire deal was above board. As did the arms companies, and counsel for the alleged “middle-man”, Fana Hlongwane, Jaap Cilliers. In his closing statement on Monday, Cilliers said there was no evidence of corruption. Indeed, the evidence that the critics say exists was largely not presented to the commission.

The commission has maintained that it was not a forensic inquiry but merely a “fact-finding mission”.

Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

Advertisting

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Workers’ R60m ‘lost’ in banks scam

An asset manager, VBS Mutual Bank and a Namibian bank have put the retirement funds of 26 000 municipal workers in South Africa at risk

‘Judge President Hlophe tried to influence allocation of judges to...

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath accuses Hlophe of attempting to influence her to allocate the case to judges he perceived as ‘favourably disposed’ to former president Jacob Zuma

SAA grounds flights due to low demand

SAA is working to accommodate customers on its sister airlines after it cancelled flights due to low demand
Advertising

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.