A Denel G-6 howitzer tank. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
A Denel G-6 howitzer tank. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

It was glaringly evident in 1994/1995 during the Cameron commission of inquiry into Armscor that SA’s war industry (let’s drop the “defence” euphemism) was managerially incompetent and irredeemably corrupt. Undeterred, war business lobbyists continue to sprout their canard that the apartheid era developed a formidable homegrown industry (“Why SA needs Denel and a defence industry”, September 14).

The reality is that Armscor was built on pirated and stolen European, US and Israeli technology, and was heavily subsidised. As Noseweek’s Martin Welz pithily described it: “Israel had the brains but no money: SA had the money but no brains.”

Similarly, a CIA front company, International Signal Corporation, provided Armscor’s missile technology, and the designs for the G5 and G6 artillery originated with Canada’s Gerald Bull.

Business Day’s former editor Ken Owen noted in 1995: “The evils of apartheid belonged to the civilian leaders; its insanities were entirely the property of the military officer class. It is an irony of our liberation that Afrikaner hegemony might have lasted another half-century had the military theorists not diverted the national treasure into strategic undertakings like Mossgas and Sasol, Armscor and Nufcor that, in the end, achieved nothing for us but bankruptcy and shame.”

Not only did the war business fail dismally in preventing the downfall of apartheid, but we still face the consequences of a bankrupted country. Yet hundreds of billions of rand continued to be wasted on Denel and the arms deal scandal — of which Denel (according to former defence minister Joe Modise in 1999) was supposed to have been the prime beneficiary via the offset obligations. 

Helmoed-Römer Heitman curiously cites the Saab Gripen as an example of industrial benefits. BAE Systems/Saab were obligated to deliver $8.7bn (now R150bn) in offset “benefits”.  Predictably, those benefits did not materialise; they were simply instruments to pay bribes.

There is fortunately no conceivable foreign military threat to justify an SA war industry. It is, however, diabolical that SA arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have contributed to Saudi/UAE war crimes in Yemen, and the consequent humanitarian disaster. Is Heitman also proud of that record?

The real and immediate threats to our security are the disgraceful levels of poverty inherited from the apartheid era.

Elementary economics confirms that SA must prioritise education and health if we are ever to remedy those legacies. Nor, contrary to Heitman’s assertion, does the World Bank find that a country can safely spend up to 4% of its economy on war. What the World Bank has found (which war lobbyists have misconstrued and attempted to turn into a benchmark) is that prolonged expenditure on the military of more than 2% a year creates the risk of economic collapse.

Having ignored warnings by then US president Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 of the consequences of the “military-industrial-congressional complex”, that reality is now evident in the US.

Terry Crawford-Browne,World Beyond War SA

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