Formally known as the Strategic Defence Package, the arms deal, to use its notorious nickname, was a multi-billion-rand military acquisition project finalised in 1999 by the South African government. If allegations currently under investigation by a top-level commission are proven true, it will be the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history.
The acquisition was meant to modernise the South African National Defence Force‘s existing equipment, and it followed from the White Paper on National Defence, presented in 1996 to Parliament by then defence minister Joe Modise, and approved in 1996 by Cabinet. This document outlined the country’s new defence policy and encompassed “countering military threats; the orientation, preparation, maintenance and employment of armed forces; and the procurement of weaponry and military equipment”
A defence review followed, established to determine the size, structure and design of the SANDF for the future and to set up long-term planning to reach these objectives. During the review process the government was approached by overseas suppliers, and it then decided to purchase defence equipment in packages rather than individual pieces of equipment. These became known as the Strategic Defence Packages.
The hardware was to be purchased from a number of foreign dealers and it included naval craft, submarines, fighter aircraft, helicopters and other equipment. Attached to the procurement of military equipment were requirements for bid winners to invest in South Africa by building factories in South Africa to help alleviate unemployment, and to source certain items locally.
The cabinet issued invitations to tender to various arms suppliers around the world – these would then be evaluated by a series of different sub-committees, each of which focused on a different piece of equipment. The sub-committees included representatives from Armscor and the departments of defence, finance, and trade and industry. Once the sub-committees had done their work, the evaluations would be given to the Arms Acquisition Council, which was the last step in the assessment chain. It would look at the proposals and then give its final approval of the acquisition plan. The plan would then be submitted to Cabinet for the final yea or nay. This process was supplosed to ensure the best prices, and cut out potential corruption.
In November 1998 Cabinet announced its list of preferred suppliers. Negotiations took the whole of the next year and were finalised when finance minister Trevor Manuel signed the loan agreements for the packages on 3 December 1999.