Arms Deal commission public hearings adjourned to January


The Seriti Commission of Inquiry into South Africa’s multi-billion Rand arms acquisition this week said public hearings would be adjourned until January.

“The chairman, Judge Willie Seriti, adjourned the hearings after evidence leaders indicated consultations with witnesses are still ongoing and the next witness from Armscor will be ready and available in the new year,” Commission spokesman William Baloyi said in a statement.

The hearings, originally set down to start on March 4, were postponed until August 5 with a new witness list. The current round of hearings is set to end on January 28. The original list comprising anti-arms deal campaigners such as Terry Crawford-Browne and Richard Young as well as Patricia de Lille, the original whistleblower during her time as an Independent Democrat MP, was replaced by a new one.

This included senior SA Air Force and SA Navy officers as well as senior Armscor and Department of Trade and Industry personnel. Also on the list are previous President Thabo Mbeki and former ministers Trevor Manuel (finance), Mosiuoa Lekota (defence), Ronnie Kasrils (defence and intelligence) and Alec Erwin (trade and industry).

Two other people whose names did not appear on the August list have also made submissions to the Commission during public hearings in the Tshwane metro council chamber. They are current SA National Defence Force Chief General Solly Shoke and former SA Air Force Chief Lieutenant General (ret) Willem Hechter.

The hearings to date have had their fair share of disruptions with delays caused by broken water pipes which flooded the council chamber, a power outage as well as two more days lost due to Seriti being ill. Additional delays were caused by defence legal teams asking for time to have certain documentation declassified and Lawyers for Human Rights wanting time to study documentation in preparation for cross examination of an Armscor witness.

While public hearings have stopped, the commission will continue its work, with one of the items on the agenda a revised schedule of witness appearances. Baloyi said this would be issued within 10 days.

The multi-billion Rand Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP) saw contracts signed in 1998 for the air force to acquire Gripen fighter jets, Hawk Lead-In Fighter Trainers, AgustaWestland A109 Light Utility Helicopters and Super Lynx maritime helicopters, while the Navy re-established its blue water capability with Valour Class frigates and Heroine Class submarines.