A South African perspective on Gothenburg IV. During the last week of October 2010 a conference organised by four Swedish based organisations which support faith based advocacy for disarmament was held in London under the title “Gothenburg Process IV”. The arms trade came under critical scrutiny from a variety of participants drawn from faith based organizations, the NGO sector and academia. Interestingly, representatives of the British Foreign Office and Rolls Royce also participated to give governmental and industry perspectives on the deliberations of the conference. Indeed, the new coalition government in the UK gave such prominence to the conference that it hosted a reception for delegates at the Foreign Office.
After the Swedes, the South African delegation to the conference was the largest. Rightly so. Three South Africans made presentations during the conference. Joseph Dube of IANSA spoke to the topic “Small arms and an Arms Trade Treaty: NGO action in practice – the ship of shame case study”. With the aid of a well organised power point presentation he took the conference through the tale of the attempt by China to deliver small arms to the Mugabe regime via Durban. This was an attempt which was foiled by litigation and the refusal of the SA unions to handle the offloading of the arms when they first reached Durban.
Len Hansen of the Beyers Naude Centre for Public Theology at Stellenbosch University spoke to the theme: SA churches and the South African arms deal. He highlighted the SA Council of Churches concerns about the cost of the weapons, the impact of their acquisition on the developmental needs of the country, in particular creation of jobs, the appropriateness of prioritizing arms acquisitions over the provision of basic services to the poor, power relations factors applicable to regional security and the spectre of corruption in the conclusion of the deals and sub-contracts too.
It was however Andrew Feinstein, the former ANC MP, who had the undivided attention of the conference (and gooseflesh on the arms of at least one Swede) when he spoke movingly about the South African arms deal and its impact on democracy and socio-economic development. He developed a compelling argument in favour of the proposition that the global arms trade undermines accountable democracy. This is not only because of the use and abuse of arms in the world, it is also because of the way in which arms deals are done. The practice of paying bribes to middlemen and officials is both illegal and reprehensible. The inducements offered by way of the so-called off-set deals seldom come to fruition. The waste of working capital inherent in buying weapons that are “not needed and barely used” (as Feinstein put it) when the money could be better spent on socio-economic development is also self-evident.
Developing his theme, Feinstein pointed out that the socio-economic opportunities lost have served to undermine the rule of law. The lack of responsiveness to the needs of ordinary people in South Africa has meant that there is now a backlog of over 2 million housing units; leaving some 12 million less fortunate citizens inadequately housed. Among them are 6 million AIDS patients, 355,000 of whom have avoidably died due to the failure to roll out an ARV treatment regimen for the poor. Had the money used in the arms deals been put to better use, Feinstein, an economist by profession, opined that at least 100,000 jobs per year could have been created for unemployed countrymen. Instead unemployment remains an intractable problem affecting the lives of mainly young and mainly under-educated people who should be reaping the benefits of the new constitutional democratic order based upon the ideas of human dignity, equality and freedom. The human rights guaranteed to all in the post liberation Bill of Rights remain promises on paper to too many of those who for so long participated in the struggle for their freedom.
Asked by a leading Islamic cleric, Dr Mustafa Ceric, why he was now based in London instead of seeking votes for change from his constituents in South Africa, Feinstein explained that, while he is still a member of the ANC, it became impossible for him to retain his career in political office when he questioned the means and methods used in the SA arms deal. The proportional representation system in South Africa in effect means that although Feinstein was number 61 on the list of candidates of his party, it was always open to the party bosses to replace him for his failure to observe party discipline by allowing the irregularities in the arms deal to go unchallenged by the parliamentary oversight committee on which he served. Instead of waiting for the axe to fall, Feinstein resigned his seat in parliament while under police guard because of fears for his safety and that of his young family. His situation became “ridiculous” and his displacement to London unavoidable.
Feinstein also explained that he has repeatedly and publicly accused those involved of corruption. He has published a book “After the Party” on the subject and states therein that the ANC is institutionally corrupt for having used the proceeds of the bribes paid in the arms deal to fund its 1999 election campaign. As none of the other parties contesting that and subsequent elections have had access to the kind of money that enabled the ANC to engage Stanley Greenberg, the American polling adviser to various victorious politicians around the world, the fairness of the electoral process is brought under suspicion by this manifestation of corruption which would not have been possible but for the conclusion of the arms deal. Feinstein pointed out that he has never been sued for defamation nor interdicted from publishing his statements about the corruption in the South African arms deal. Nor does he expect to be, because his allegations are both true and in the public interest. He urged delegates to the conference to drop the use of “allegations of” before the word “corruption” in relation to the South African arms deal.
One of the organisers of the conference is the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR). Together with two other Swedish organisations, it has laid charges in Sweden against SAAB, the manufacturer of the Jas Gripen aircraft which are part of the contract concluded with British Aerospace in circumstances that are patently irregular. SweFOR wants SAAB to be held accountable for its role in the matter in which bribes of 115 million pounds sterling were paid. This has been admitted in the House of Commons in London. At the time it was not illegal to bribe foreign officials under British law. Whether the same odd situation applies in Sweden remains to be seen.
If the SweFOR charges stick, it will have been proven in a court of law that the deal was tainted by illegality in the form of bribery. This means that the entire deal can then be cancelled by the SA authorities. The aircraft involved will then be returned to the manufacturers in Sweden and the UK and the money paid will have to be refunded in full, including the amounts involved in the bribery. It will also, in terms of the escape clause in the contract, be possible to sue for such damages as may have been suffered as a consequence of the corruption. As the South African and UK authorities do not appear to have any appetite for exacting accountability and getting to the bottom of the scandalous way in which the deal was done, there is a lot riding on the success of the criminal investigations in Sweden. May the prosecutors there show due regard for the rule of law and be imbued with the proper resolve to get to the bottom of the matter.
Paul Hoffman SC
5th Nov 2010