By Elisabeth Neckel
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In 1994 a new country rose like a phoenix from the ashes at the southern tip of the African continent. The struggle for democracy had won and the Apartheid regime was abolished. The rainbow nation was closely watched and had high expectations set by its own people. Corruption and inequality were to be put to an end. Looking at South Africa 16 years later, one wonders: have those aims been achieved? The greatest aim, to combat corruption, has utterly failed and prospects of restoring faith in the government are dismal. The arms deal has undermined democratic structures and presents a grave step back for the young democratic virtues at the Cape of Good Hope.
When we think of South Africa we think of incredible nature, wild animals and of the Soccer World Cup 2010. Unfortunately, South Africa is also known for its dark era of Apartheid. With the Group Areas Act of 1950, the populations different races were geographically segregated from each other.
The role of the military during that time was mainly to prevent uprisings from the discontent black population. The blacks fought the unjust living conditions and Nelson Mandela was willing to spend 27 years in prison, on Robben Island, to fight the regime. Unemployment among the black part of the population peaked at 40% and the same percentage of the population lived in poverty. A quarter of African households had less than R300 per month (30€), about 65% of them lived below the national breadline, which was R900 per month (90€). In contrast to that, 65% of white households had at least R2000 (200€) per month. Tony Yengeni, an ANC member, points out the controversy of the arms deal quite clearly: The levels of poverty in the country are so high that most victims of poverty cannot comprehend that a new democratic Parliament can endorse spending a substantial amount on corvettes.
On the international scene South Africas reputation declined more and more with the Apartheid regime in power. The UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on South Africa in 1977 which was only lifted with the end of the Apartheid regime in 1994. The main actors in the transition from the Apartheid regime to a democratic Republic were Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, who have received well-deserved international recognition for their achievement.
Immediately after the end of the Apartheid regime the new government had to undertake extensive measures to overcome the insurmountable inequalities in South African society. The government had to start with the basics: e.g. improving health care, reforming the school system or granting access to running water. Only one in five African households had access to running water, whereas every white household had access at that time.
Regardless of the early attempts by the government to concentrate its expenditure on social projects and to cut military expenditure, the military soon came into focus again. Shortly after the end of the apartheid regime, western arms dealers seized their opportunity and rushed to Johannesburg. Their aim: to equip the new democracy against dangers with corvettes, aircrafts and submarines. The dangers were unknown, as South Africa never faced any threat of aggression from either of its neighbours. This is the beginning of the South African arms deal.
In recent years the investigations into the arms deal developed into a litmus test for South African democracy and its devotion towards accountability in the rainbow nation. Prior to the conclusion of the deal, experts were asked to evaluate the need and benefit for South Africa to invest into new military equipment. In the absence of valid military dangers, the experts concluded that the coast guard was able to protect the coast of the country in an adequate manner. The experts were ignored and in 1996 the approval to ask for offers from abroad was granted, allegedly after payments from Europe had eased the decision. In 1997 the arms deal was estimated to cost the government R12bn (1.2bn €). Only one year later, 1998, the cost for the deal had magically risen to R30bn (3bn €). This drastic increase in cost was justified against the promised offsets through investments and jobs created by arms dealers in South Africa. It was anticipated that the investment of R30bn by the
South African government would generate an offset of R110bn and more than 65 000 new jobs. In December 1998 the Ministry of Finance gave the green light for the deal. The total cost of the arms deal was calculated in 2007 and it reached R48bn, thus four times as much as initially expected.
The setting in which the deal was concluded let brought about accusations of corruption. And not only in South Africa, British companies had bribed South African Parliamentarians to support the deal. But no allegations could be filed since at the time it was not illegal under British law to bribe foreigners and therefore investigations had to be closed. Evidently, there have been US $300 million in bribes towards South African politicians via middle men and numerous European countries.
Regardless of the legal settings in Europe it has always been illegal for South African officials to accept bribes. The institutions which would carry out the investigations were in place, the key player is the SCOPA (Standing Committee on Public Accounts), which investigated the actions of high ranking politicians. During investigations masses of evidence was found for corruption nature of the negotiation process. Investigations have - unfortunately successfully- been delayed and postponed on the basis of formal errors and disregard for time lines. The great majority of the population would want their country to prove itself by dealing with this case like a true, developed democracy. Legally, South Africa can get out of the contract once it can prove that the contract was concluded on a corrupt basis.
Financially, this would result in a plus of R43bn which could then be used to decrease the backlog of 2 million housing units, which leaves about 12 million citizens without appropriate shelter. Morally, the citizens demand that the government upholds the constitutional values and combats corruption as promised by President Zuma in the last election campaign.
Unfortunately, South Africa has decided not to continue investigations into the deal. On September 30th, 2010 the investigations were officially terminated. The material found in the course of investigation strongly suggests the criminal character of the arms deal. So far 50 000 jobs and R9bn in offsets can be traced back to the conclusion of the arms deal.