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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Poverty Not Arms – at the Cape Town Book Fair

A packed hall greeted authors Terry Crawford-Browne (Eye on the Money) and Andrew Feinstein (After the Party) in a panel entitled “The Arms Deal”, chaired by Noseweek editor Martin Welz.

“The events of the drama start in 1999 and continue until today,” said Weltz who invited each author to speak to the topic.

Both continue their crusade against the Arms Deal in different ways. Terry, via the South African courts and Andrew, via international NGO pressure.

Crawford-Browne reflected that in 1977, the UN imposed an arms embargo against apartheid South Africa. “This was particularly effective in terms of the Navy and Air Force. I’d been involved in the sanctions campaign as a way to bypass the apartheid government. This led to the release of Mandela and subsequent developments. But by 1994 the admirals were keen to replace the navy warships which could barely float.

“Consequently, in 1994, some months after the transition, Armscor was caught selling AK47S to Croatia. It became an embarrassing scandal for the new government. Suggestions were made to close down the apartheid era arms industry, but internationally the industry was regrouping. European companies were facing bankruptcy and after the new government was installed in 1994 every politician in the world arrived here, saying how much they loved the new South African with one breath and asking how can might sell you weapons in the next.”

Martin Weltz explored the idea of poverty as the top moral and security priority, with increasing crime and the recent xenophobic reactions as background. The issues are no longer theoretical. They are there for all to see.

“The next issue we face is how the arms industry – with its clients as governments – is there to make a profit, survive and grow. It goes against the trends, promoting itself as a peace keeper and funder of political parties. This is a worldwide phenomenon.”

He said South Africa had to keep an eye on the Saudi situation with Prince Banda being active in the arms trade. “This is not a theoretical paradox, but a direct chain. Prince Banda is a major shareholder in Cell C. These are critical events unfolding in South African politics.”

Andrew Feinstein said, “I arrived at these issues somewhat later than Terry and Martin, hanging on the coattails of some extremely courageous people. When I first received the auditor general’s report, I was completely naïve, going to tell Tony Yengeni that we’d received it the report. Fairly rapidly, I got up to speed with the industry, thanks to people like Martin and Terry. My conceptualization was that arms manufacturers, their various governments and Tony Blair and Royal Family came to South Africa to lend their persuasive support for acquistion of arms.

“These people, political leaders, middle men and agents, persuaded the boys that they needed far more toys than they thought they did. They made economic promises. Offsets are a complete nonsense. The only place that has ever benefitted is the state of California. No developing country has benefitted meaningfully.

“The arms companies laugh all the way to the bank. We’re left with weaponry we didn’t need, and will be paying the bills for decades to come.”

Quote of the hour: ““The arms deal continues to cast a dark shad over democracy. President Mbeki has a range of extremely awkward questions to answer that he has avoided for years. Jacob Zuma has a case of fraud and corruption to answer. It’s extremely important for rule of law and democracy that the trial takes place, sooner rather than later. The cloak of “national security’ has been used too long to hide deviousness, corruption and avarice that Terry and Martin have indicated. The reality is that tax payers in both the selling and purchasing countries come off worse.””
-Andrew Feinstein


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