A SANDF soldier confronts a woman not wearing a face mask in Hillbrow, Picture: Michele Spatari / AFP
A SANDF soldier confronts a woman not wearing a face mask in Hillbrow, Picture: Michele Spatari / AFP

War lobbyist Helmoed Römer Heitman (“Neglecting defence can have unpleasant results,” September 17) evidently needs to be reminded of his role, together with Armscor, in unleashing the arms deal corruption that has destroyed SA’s hard-won constitutional democracy.

The BAE Systems/Saab Gripen fighter aircraft contracts were (and still are) hugely controversial in Sweden. Saab bribes, described as funding for an industrial training school, funded the ANC’s 1999 election campaign. Of course, the school never happened.

A Treasury memorandum in June 1998 confirmed that SA’s financial circumstances were such that the country simply could not afford the arms deal. The lure of purported offset benefits was therefore concocted to deceive parliament and the citizenry.

Heitman was interviewed during a Swedish TV1 investigation in September 1998, and was asked whether Sweden was taking advantage of having supported the struggle against apartheid. He replied: “Yes, the Swedish industry and government, especially the government. The government sent a senior diplomat who was involved in the sanctions campaign. That went down well with politicians and the media. A pleasant little touch. Yes, offsets are more important than the equipment itself.”

In return for $2.5bn spent on warplanes, BAE/Saab were obligated to deliver offset benefits worth $8.7bn and to create 30,667 jobs. President Thabo Mbeki irrationally insisted that SA could not afford treatment for HIV/Aids, yet could afford warships and warplanes because of their offset benefits. Offsets were simply instruments to pay bribes.

About 360,000 South Africans died prematurely of HIV-related causes before the Constitutional Court finally intervened. Predictably, neither the “benefits” nor the jobs materialised, and unemployment soared.  

Education was also neglected, and millions of people are today “unemployable” and literally starving. Those useless BAE/Saab warplanes are now in “cold storage” because SA lacks the pilots to fly them, the mechanics to maintain them and even the money to fuel them. Those are the “unpleasant results” of the arms deal debacle, which inflicted economic devastation and corruption upon SA.

Additional “unpleasant results” of bloated militarism have been the murders and other barbaric conduct perpetrated by SA National Defence Force soldiers during the Covid-19 lockdown, plus as so-called “peacekeepers” elsewhere in Africa. This is not however, exceptional misbehaviour by a “few bad apples”. Armies in Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and every country in the world — including the US and Britain — are notorious for human rights atrocities and war crimes.

The war lobby’s mantra, “if you want peace, prepare for war”, has been thoroughly disproved and discredited by the past 120 years of nonstop wars. It’s past time to make another plan.

In the post-Covid-19 era, a fraction of the $2-trillion the world squanders annually on war preparations could both alleviate poverty and mitigate climate change, to which the war business is the prime contributor and culprit.

Terry Crawford-Browne
By e-mail

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