Former president Thabo Mbeki is the last witness who will give evidence in the first round of public hearings into the multi-billion Rand arms deal.
He was deputy president at the time government entered into negotiations with foreign arms manufacturers for new front-line equipment for the airborne and maritime arms of service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and was tasked by then president Nelson Mandela to head the Cabinet sub-committee dealing with the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (SDPP). His tenure as president, from June 1999 to September 2008, saw numerous allegations of bribery and corruption relating to the acquisition of frigates, submarines, jet fighters, lead-in jet fighter trainers, light utility helicopters and maritime helicopters.
Of Mbeki’s involvement in the arms deal, Corruption Watch said: “Much of the wheeling and dealing too place on his watch. He is also alleged to have interfered in a decree by Mosiuoa Lekota (then Defence Minister) that gave the Auditor-General carte blanche into investigating the arms deal – Mbeki is said to have revoked that decree – and ensured the results of the joint investigation were sanitised, exonerating the government of any wrongdoing”.
Mbeki will spend Thursday, July 17, on the witness stand at the Seriti Commission’s sitting in the Tshwane metro council chambers.
“His appearance will complete the first phase of the public hearings,” commission spokesman William Baloyi said.
The hearings, which started on August 5 last year and were originally scheduled to finish by the end of November, dealt primarily with the rationale and affordability of the military hardware acquisitions. This saw a change of witnesses from the original list of subpoenas decided on by Judge Willie Seriti.
The original list would have seen whistle-blowers such as Patricia de Lille, Richard Young, Terry-Crawford-Browne, Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren. They and others, including Democratic Alliance shadow defence and military veterans minister, David Maynier, are all on the list of 13 witnesses set to appear in phase two of the hearings which start on July 21.
Numerous adjournments for reasons ranging from non-classification of documentation through to power failures and flooding of the chamber used by the commission saw to it that the November deadline for phase one completion was not met. Public hearings restarted on January 20 and Mbeki will be the last witness in phase one with phase two starting four days later.
Apart from the whistle-blowers, Seriti has also subpoenaed Shamin “Chippy” Shaik, who was appointed director of acquisitions at Armscor specifically for the SDPP, and Fana Hlongwane, advisor to now deceased Defence Minister Joe Modise.