As South Africa counts the cost of the arms deal – dubbed the biggest corruption scandal this country has ever seen in a democracy – the credibility of the state is at stake in the eyes of both its citizens and the world. The Arms Procurement Commission was set up to probe the alleged corruption in the deal. But now, the commission’s ability to uncover the truth is being questioned. The commission is yet to conclude and release its findings. While this is happening, the country is once again in the process of reviewing its current defence capacity. This means that another arms deal is looming and this time, it is expected that many more billions will be spent on securing new ammunitions.
The debate around the purchase of large scale weapons for South Africa’s emerging democracy has become an explosive issue with activists like Hennie Van Vuuren believing that the country has more pressing social needs to spend its resources on, than procuring arms. Conversely, defence analyst Helmut Heitman believes that given the geo-political outlook, with the increase in terrorism activities and continuing instability in some parts of the African continent, South Africa’s move to increase its military capacity is justified.
The Ministry of Defence recently sent 1 500 South African National Defence Force [SANDF] members to form part of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises. They will be involved in peace enforcement, which means that, unlike their previous role, they will now actively engage in in conflict areas, beyond the mere maintenance of peace. Also, in March this year, the Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, announced the next Defence Review for 2014 which is aimed at addressing what has been referred to as a critical state of decline of the National Defence Force. This sentiment was also shared by the Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General Vusi Masondo.
The moral questions remain about the need for more ammunition or even the potential unintended consequences of South Africa’s involvement in foreign conflicts. But given the controversy surrounding the previous arms deal, has South Africa learnt any lessons from the past and can we trust that state officials will always act in the best interest of the country?
Watch “Devil in the Deal” produced by Lee McCabe. It will be broadcast on Special Assignment – aired Sundays on SABC 3 at 20:00PM. Repeated Mondays at 23:30pm on SABC 3.