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Lynne Brown. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Lynne Brown. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown is just one of numerous previous and current ministers who should be held accountable and/or prosecuted for the Denel debacle (“How Lynne Brown cleared the way for Denel’s destruction”, February 1).

They include Pravin Gordhan and Naledi Pandor, who “closed their eyes” to Rheinmetall Denel Munitions’s (RDM) complicity in the Saudi/United Arab Emirates humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. The National Conventional Arms Control Act stipulates, inter alia, that SA will not export arms to countries that abuse human rights and to regions in conflict. 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are notorious for human rights abuses and corruption. Even Nelson Mandela acknowledged that the Saudis were major donors to the ANC. Contrary to your headline, tens of billions of taxpayers’ monies have been poured down the Denel drain since 1992, when it was hived off from Armscor. The notion that killing foreigners for profit is a lucrative business is both grotesque and false. An estimated 40%-45% of global corruption has been traced back to the arms trade.

The 1994/1995 Cameron commission of inquiry reported that Armscor was managerially incompetent and irredeemably corrupt. That corporate culture was also inherent in Denel from day one. The Gupta connection was just one of many fiascos. Former defence minister, the late Joe Modise, informed parliament in 1999 that Denel would be the prime beneficiary of the R110bn in arms deal offset “benefits”.  Yet as predicted the offset “benefits” were a scam that never materialised. Offsets are simply an instrument to pay bribes to corrupt politicians.

Almost four years have lapsed since September 2018, when an explosion at RDM in Macassar, Somerset West, killed eight workers. Gordhan promised an open investigation. Instead of acknowledging its gross negligence, RDM’s management tried to blame the supervisor.

That backfired when the first labour department public hearing in May 2021 confirmed managerial incompetence, and that RDM had overruled the supervisor. Testimony at the second public hearing in October revealed that the TNT equivalent of that RDM explosion was about 750kg, and thus about half of the TNT equivalent of the Beirut explosion of August 2020. Dates for the third public hearing are still awaited.

A fire at RDM on November 1 further confirmed the anxieties of the Macassar community that it is untenable in terms of safety and environmental contamination to locate an ammunition factory in a residential area. The German arms company Rheinmetall, which holds 51% of RDM, deliberately locates much of its production in countries (such as SA) where the rule of law is weak, to evade German arms export regulations. Germany has embargoed arms exports to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Turkey.

Now that it is last acknowledged that Denel is unfixable, will Rheinmetall be held accountable financially by the department of public enterprises for the clean-up costs at Macassar and elsewhere, on the principle that “the polluter pays”?

Terry Crawford-Browne
World Beyond War SA

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