Mpofu quits: For good or bad?


The facts surrounding the resignation of Secretary for Defence Mpumi Mpofu and Chief of the Air Force Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano need clarification.

At first report it appeared they appeared to have resigned because of the ongoing troubles surrounding the leasing/hiring of aircraft for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and delays in ordering two new VIP transports for the South African Air Force. But other reports this weekend paint a murkier picture. For the moment Gagiano apparently remains air chief, but Mpofu is gone.

The Weekend Argus, suggest that in her short tenure in the defence department, “Mpofu made powerful enemies among the country’s military hawks [sic].” One reported stand-off arose when she questioned the processes by which the SAAF – or more accurately the Defence Supply Chain Integration (DSCI) Division – were busy leasing two VIP jets – at a cost of more than R800 million – from the Nigerian-owned Adoair. Her intervention stalled the procurement and the matter is apprently now before the courts. According to the Weekend Argus’ unnamed sources the deal, reported on these pages in April, “would have been dogged with irregularities and misappropriations just like the multi-billion rand arms deal had Mpofu not stood her ground.”

Mpofu reportedly was also questioning ongoing SANDF contracts to private sector aviation companies for airfreighting to peace missions throughout Africa, the paper said. These are also awarded by the DSCI.

The DSCI has attracted controversy in the past. It was reported in 2009 that DSCI head Mthobisi Zondi, a civilian nominally answering to Mpofu, had links with companies that won a R142 million asset management and stock verification contract as well as a R108 million deal to clear explosive remnants from two former defence force training areas. The opposition Democratic Alliance’s then-deputy defence spokesman, James Lorimer, said those tenders were just some “of a number of suspicious contracts awarded by this department. The Portfolio Committee [on Defence and Military Veterans] agreed to my request in November [2009] to ask Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu to launch a probe into all military procurement that does not fall under Armscor. The minister has yet to answer that request.” Her spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, at the time said auditing firm KPMG was probing procurement, among other aspects, as part of the minister’s “turnaround strategy” for the DoD, announced in May 2009.

Thus, the question remains: Did Mpofu quit on a matter of principle, setting a good example or the public service as a whole (taking personal responsibility for a failure) or did she throw in the towel in the face of insurmountable odds? It may also be time to ask what happened to the KPMG report and the portfolio committee’s request.