The African National Congress’ (ANC) handling of the so-called 1999 “arms scandal” was an important moment in the history of the democratic South Africa, if disgruntled ANC MP Andrew Feinstein is to be believed – and there is little reason to doubt him, if only because neither he nor publisher Jonathan Ball have been slapped with a defamation writ.
Feinstein is a disillusioned man and his After the Party is therefore a curious mixture of fawn and invective with a slightly tedious use of adjective. Hardly a person passes without a qualification – for better or worse. Predictably, Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille is “fiery”, Amichand Rajbansi has a “charming lack of self-irony” and Jay Naidoo has “somewhat satanic good looks”. But one digresses.
Feinstein believes President Thabo Mbeki`s self-interested neutering of Parliament`s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) in 2001 and the investigation into alleged irregularities in the deal marked the moment the Executive became its master`s master and made the ANC`s leadership a “Politburo”, thereby entirely subverting the democratic process and in effect staging a coup against the Constitution.
Those MPs who assisted in the process were handsomely rewarded, for example: Pallo Jordan – whose wife, Sue Rabkin, is Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota`s “special advisor” – returned to the rank of minister (President Thabo Mbeki had demoted him in 1999); while Naledi Pandor was also soon elevated to Cabinet and Beatrice Marshoff made Premier of the Free State.
Feinstein, to use a lovely bit of ANC-speak also “unpacks” the character of Mbeki, a man in love with his perception of his own intelligence. (South) Africans are only now starting to realise what a poisonous influence this man has had on the body politic. Being to “clever by half” has undone his legacy, which may have been the GEAR macro-economic policy, NEPAD and the African “Renaissance”. The latter has acquired a flavour more familiar to the Borgias of 15th Century Florence than a “Marshall Plan” that was supposed to (re)construct Africa.
Many of Mbeki`s convoluted public utterances also take a more sinister tone in hindsight – more sophistry than sophisticated. Writing about Mbeki`s famous “I am an African” speech, Feinstein noted “the speech also highlighted Mbeki`s problematic practice of using his erudition to obfuscate a deeper, often less palatable intention. Re-reading the speech a few years later, it became apparent that it had presaged the start of a shift from the ANC`s non-racism to a complex and less inclusive Africanism.”
For those interested in the “arms deal” the relevant section, appropriately, is Chapter 13. Feinstein makes no bones that from the start it was clear some in government had their hands in the till and had selected equipment in terms of the size of the envelope rather than the need of the end users – South Africa`s soldiers, sailors and airmen. “…the Auditor-General`s [then Henri Kleuver] initial report into the arms deal … found that there had been a litany of irregularities… These included conflicts of interest, among key decision makers, the contentious awarding of a contract to provide fighter and training jets to BAe and SAAB, the controversial decision to grant the German Frigate Consortium the right to build four ships, the allocation of a naval sub-contract to a French company at a substantial increase in cost over a local company tender, inadequate offset guarantees and a disregard for the staff requirements to operate the systems purchased.
Once the implications of this became clear, the Executive moved in – and controversy followed. To this day government and arms deal apologists claim the deal was above board, barring a few, minor irregularities. But Feinstein shows this was patently not the case. He was there at the time and witnessed the mugging of Parliament, the rigging of hearings into the matter and the doctoring of reports. “How do you think we funded the 1999 election?” a senior ANC National Executive Committee asked Feinstein during that time, adding the party – meaning Mbeki – believed they “can just tough it out.” They still do. It is tragedy for the country.
After the Party: A personal and political journey inside the ANC
Cape Town, 2007