Hennie van Vuuren and Michael Marchant unpack seven of the key takeaways from the myth-busting bestseller.
PW Botha's apartheid government relied on legislated secrecy to shield his government's economic crimes from scrutiny. In this context even government oversight bodies were prohibited from seeing into the arms procurement world, corruption thrived. Journalists were shut down and persecuted, and the public interest suffered. This is why current indications from the South African government of a move back toward securitization and secrecy should so concern us. It is also why South Africans must guard against the intimidation and pressure on investigative journalists who continue to tell the vital stories of state capture and corruption today.
Who funded the National Party?
Large South African corporations and their leaders went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and argued that they had never supported apartheid and that it was 'bad for business'. The archival records of the National Party and its leaders PW Botha and FW de Klerk tell a different story. There we found the annual cheques from business giants from all sectors, made out to the National Party, and often accompanied by fawning letters of praise to the party's leadership. From billionaires like Christo Wiese to media giant Naspers, South African corporations were willing to grease the apartheid political machine.
Their influence was always suspected, but secrecy around the funding of political parties prevented the public from truly knowing how these relationships operated, and what they may have received in return. This problem persists today, with secrecy allowing big money to corrupt political parties and South African politics more broadly. Reform is desperately needed and must be demanded.
Kredietbank and the Arms Money Machine
While Swiss banks and their executives enjoyed cosy relationships with the apartheid state and private sector, profiting vastly off selling South African gold, it was a Belgian bank and its Luxembourg subsidiary that was at the centre of apartheid's money laundering machine that was essential in keeping apartheid armed in times of the UN embargoes. Kredietbank Luxembourg, in exchange for vast profits, helped Armscor establish a global money laundering network of secret bank accounts and shell companies in order to bust the UN arms embargo against apartheid.
Based on the evidence we gathered Apartheid Guns & Money identified over 800 such bank accounts and over 100 secret companies between Panama and Liberia. The bank's Chairman, André Vlerick, was willing to assist both due to an ideological commitment to white supremacy, but also for the super profits that he and the bank could reap.
The Big Five were all in on the action
There is evidence that all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, France, the Soviet Union, UK and USA), tasked with policing the arms embargo, were complicit in different ways in assisting Armscor in illegally purchasing weapons. Help came from what is termed the 'deep state' - intelligence agencies, arms companies and middlemen in these powerful countries. Governments tolerated these activities, from South Africa's traditional allies in France, who permitted a 30 strong Armscor delegation to direct sanctions-busting activities from the Paris embassy to surprising friends in China where the state-owned arms company NORINCO supplied the apartheid military clandestinely through Zaire (now the DRC).
The stories and startling revelations in Apartheid Guns & Money emerged from considering over two million pages of documents in twenty-five public and private archives in eight countries.
One of the most stubborn and inaccurate myths about apartheid corruption is that it was an isolated regime. In fact, at least 47 countries spread across Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia collaborated to assist in arming and propping up the apartheid government. They did so by ensuring that arms, oil and loans could continue to flow into South Africa, in contravention of the sanctions of the time. Several apartheid ear politicians, spies and arms dealers interviewed in Apartheid Guns & Money spoke of the open doors around the world, where they went to barter for arms oil and information.
The Long Shadow
The investigation into the deep state networks that assisted apartheid sanctions busting efforts reveals that these networks survived the democratic transition and have played significantly damaging roles in corrupting democratic politics. Nowhere is this more obvious than the arms companies and middlemen that were selling weapons systems to apartheid in the 1980s, and then allegedly bribing ANC politicians in the 1999 Arms Deal. A key figure in this story is President Jacob Zuma, who has constructed a network of allies around him to support his bid to avoid facing the 783 counts of corruption and fraud related to the deal that he may yet still have to face.
The same French arms company that allegedly paid Zuma bribes in the arms deal was involved in busting sanctions for the apartheid state. The failure to uncover these networks of corrupt interests and hold individuals to account has compromised our democratic state. This is, even more, a reason to disrupt these networks now, and pursue accountability for those involved in economic crimes and corruption, both before and after 1994.
Free the Apartheid Archives!
The stories and startling revelations in Apartheid Guns & Money emerged from considering over two million pages of documents in twenty-five public and private archives in eight countries. The majority came from South African state archives, including the Department of Defence, Department of Justice and Auditor General's office, and in most cases were newly declassified material. However, it required a three to five-year legal battle in most cases to get the Departments to open up these archives. In many cases, the files remain hidden.
The state still favours secrecy, and it appears that powerful figures in South African and around the world maintain a strong interest in secrecy regarding our past. This cannot be tolerated. The South African public has the right to know, and will no longer be held captive by secrets that protect the powerful. This is why Open Secrets supports calls by civil society to publically release the entire apartheid archive and a body which has the support of civil society and the state to oversee this process.