Budget cuts not cause of SAN decline

26th July 2019

Editor –

The South African Navy (SAN) whines repeatedly that budget cuts are the cause of its decline (see page 10). Vice Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane and his predecessors have only themselves to blame for having ‘blown the budget’ in the 1990s on German frigates and submarines for which South Africa had no need, and could not afford.

Those frigates and submarines were bought for the bribes to the African National Congress (ANC), and not for any rational defence necessity. The R30-billion arms deal scandal was driven by the economic absurdity that R110-billion in offsets would magically create 65 000 jobs to stimulate economic development. You will recall that the three submarines came last in the military tendering criteria but, in purportedly costing R5.2-billion, were going to generate R30.4-billion in offset ‘benefits’ and create 16 251 jobs.

Of course, the offsets never materialised. The proposed stainless steel plant in Coega was replaced by a condom factory which, in turn, closed down after only three months. As the 2011 Debevoise & Plimpton report into Ferrostaal confirmed, offsets were simply vehicles to pay bribes. The Germans had no intention of meeting more than 2.4% of their offset obligations in what they termed ‘nonrefundable loans’ – that is, bribes. When cross-examined at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry, former President Thabo Mbeki confirmed that one of the German ‘bagmen’, Tony Georgiadis, was a donor to the ANC.

The admirals of the time colluded in the toys-for-boys saga, either as recipients of bribes and/or because of their lunacy that submarines are “the ultimate stealth weapon to protect fish”. Equally bizarre was their argument that the SAN needed submarines for the capacity “to give the Americans a bloody nose”. As is today acknowledged, the arms deal unleashed the culture of corruption that now afflicts South Africa, and has impoverished our economy.

Accordingly, it is past time that Hlongwane and his colleagues scale back their fantasies of being poor cousins to England’s Royal Navy and redirect their resources and budget into a coastguard service that is fit for purpose in postapartheid South Africa, which, thankfully, has no conceivable foreign naval threat to contend with.

Terry Crawford-Browne
World Beyond War – South Africa