Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
3 August 2008

Arms deal just won’t go away

When I saw the front page of the Sunday Times this morning my first response was not shock, but amazement. The newspaper reported that a German shipbuilding giant paid President Thabo Mbeki R30m to guarantee it won the submarine contract in South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal and that Mbeki gave R2m of this to Jacob Zuma and the rest to the ANC.

The story was based on a secret report compiled in 2007 by a UK specialist risk consultancy. The consultancy was commissioned by a leading Central European manufacturer to investigate the worldwide activities and “questionable business practices” of the shipbuilder, MAN Ferrostaal, which had launched a hostile takeover bid against it.

I was amazed that the Sunday Times would publish such defamatory allegations based on what at first appears to be rather flimsy evidence. Don’t they have libel lawyers working for them? If the story is not true then Mbeki would be able to sue the pant off them – even under the more even-handed libel laws developed by the Constitutional Court.

But then I read further and was even more amazed at the response from the Presidency. According to the Times:

Mbeki’s presidential spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said: “These allegations have been in the public domain for some time, which gives lie to the assertion that they are, for whatever reason, ‘unlikely (to) … be leaked in the near future’. They are of such fantastical proportions as not to warrant any response.” The Sunday Times pointed out to Ratshitanga that this was in fact a new allegation. He failed to respond.

This means that the Presidency has not denied the allegations, merely refused to comment. Where is the moral outrage, the threats of a defamation suit? The response creates the impression that the allegations might well be true. Why on earth not deny the allegations? Why not attack the Sunday Times for its counter-revolutionary tendencies?

It made me wonder. If the allegations were true or at least partly true and Mbeki sued, it would be a disaster for him and the ANC. The Sunday Times lawyers could get access to the ANC financial statements when a defamation case is brought, so is this why the Presidency responded in such a weird manner? Do they have something to hide?

The ANC also did not sue Andrew Feinstein for alleging in his book After the Party that the ANC’s 1999 election campaign was bankrolled by an arms deal bribe. If they do not sue, one will be hard-pressed not to assume the worst. If I was a journalist I would ask Mbeki if he is going to sue and if not why not.

If it was true then it would also explain why Jacob Zuma is so aggrieved for being prosecuted for taking a R500 000 bribe. The double standard would be breathtaking.

Sue Mr President! Otherwise we will have to conclude that you and your party are crooks.

UPDATE: The Presidency issued a statement today that says: “The Presidency would like to place it on record that President Thabo Mbeki has never at any stage received any amount of money from MAN Ferrostaal.  The Sunday Times or anyone who has evidence that the president or anyone else received bribe(s) in the procurement process should, as we have emphasised before, approach the law-enforcement agencies.” I note the Presidency does not deny that the ANC received money….

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