Saturday, July 14, 2012

A very important book

My review of EYE ON THE DIAMONDS by Terry Crawford-Browne (Penguin Books) was published in the Weekend Post of Port Elizabeth on July 14, 2012. However, due to space constraints, it took a substantial cut. Below is my full review of a book that is set to cause major waves.

MOST of us would probably wish that the revelations and allegations contained in this book are merely the stuff of a highly imaginative and convoluted conspiracy theory.

However, the author presents such an abundance of evidence that you have to believe there is indeed a very dark side to global finance and politics. And much of it involves blood diamonds, arms and drug trafficking, money laundering and plain, unadulterated bribery and corruption.

Sadly for us, South Africa has, since the discovery of diamonds in 1867, been at the heart of this sorry saga. And alongside us stands Israel, a country for which the author has little sympathy.

The interesting thing about Crawford-Browne is that he was a key player in the campaign launched in the mid-1980s to impose financial sanctions against the apartheid regime. As a former Cape Town-based international banker, he saw how vulnerable the pariah state was to banking sanctions, and so when the SA Council of Churches asked him to lead its sanctions lobby in the US in 1986, he jumped at the chance of finding a peaceful way of forcing the National Party government  to the negotiating table.

Indeed, this section of the book makes for fascinating reading, since it offers a first-hand account of the financial crunch that finally forced President F W de Klerk to unban the ANC in February 1990.

And Crawford-Browne believes similar tactics should be used to force Israel to accept a single state with a Palestinian majority, noting they would be even more effective in today’s high-tech banking environment.

So this is an activist decidedly of the pacifist left, not some right-wing white angry at the fall of apartheid. Yet he is also the man who has relentlessly probed the ANC’s controversial arms deal of the late 1990s – and it is his revelations in this regard which provide the guts of this riveting read. Indeed, this book would provide a good starting point for the commission of inquiry into the arms deal set up by President Jacob Zuma last September. They might also be inclined to peruse the 4,7 million computer pages of evidence seized from BAE by the Scorpions in 2008, shortly before they were summarily disbanded.

Essentially, the “offsets” proffered by armaments companies in exchange for a slice of the multibillion-rand arms contract ended up, Crawford-Browne avers, as bribes. What, for instance, became of Ferrostaal’s stainless steel plant at Coega with its 16 000 jobs?

The shocking claims fly thick and fast, in chapter after chapter, and I’ve yet to hear of any lawsuits arising from them. They present an image of a very sick world, run by ruthless, greedy men.

Crawford-Browne writes that he began getting to grips with the problem of blood diamonds during the 1994-1995 Cameron Commission of Inquiry into Armscor, when Unita was selling diamonds to De Beers “to fund the civil war in Angola”. South Africa, he adds, “was supplying the weapons”. Then, as a representative of the Anglican Church during the parliamentary Defence Review, it became clear “there was no conceivable foreign military threat to South Africa. Eradication of poverty was the national priority, and would require every cent we could muster”.

He recalls how the government at the time spoke blithely of how the R30-billion spent on armaments would generate offsets worth R110-billion, and that the arms deal was “a generous ‘Marshall Plan’ to stimulate South Africa’s economic development and create jobs”.

Not surprisingly, criticism of the arms deal, he says, was “denounced as racist”, especially after allegations emerged that BAE was bribing Tony Yengeni and other MPs with a £1-million “first success fee”.

“As a former banker, I could smell the stench of corruption, but could not yet prove it. The evidence soon followed.

“I learned that the bribes were being laundered, with the connivance of the British government, via a BAE front company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. The company was styled Red Diamond Trading Company . . .”

And so Crawford-Browne leads one into the guts of a tale which is incredibly complex, the detail and scope of his research probing each and every murky corner and exposing it to the light. Yet each allegation would require an army of investigators, with lashings of political backing, in order to pin down the culprits. But, with billions of dollars – and indeed the very balance of global military and political power hinging on the outcome – it is unlikely this nut will be cracked any time soon. (Why, even Barack Obama, hailed as such a hero when he became the first black US president, is shown to be no better than his predecessors, having doubled US arms exports since coming to power.)

The book actually starts with extracts from an obituary by Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes for Bheki Jacobs, who died of cancer in 2008, aged 46. He was, said Dawes, the man who first blew the whistle on the arms deal. “He was one of the first to grasp how the headlong plunge into business would corrupt the ANC, how its internal politics would become a savage contest for resources, and just how early in its victory the party would lose its way.”

Crawford-Browne says Jacobs had approached him in June 1999 “with information as to how some members of the ANC intended to turn South Africa into a major centre for organised crime”. He quotes Jacobs: “We’ll tell you where the real corruption is – around Joe Modise and the leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe, who see themselves as the new financial elite in post-apartheid South Africa. We saw the consequences in Russia with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when communists suddenly became super-capitalists. Such a gangster society is not why we went into exile to fight for liberation from apartheid.”

Crawford-Browne in turn introduced Jacobs to Patricia de Lille, then with the PAC, who was an early parliamentary campaigner against the arms deal.
But who stood to gain? He says Modise had profited from “the easy and quick money opportunities offered by the illegal trade in diamonds” and that “a dysfunctional police force combined with world-class banking services made South Africa an ideal base for money laundering operations”.

But from Britain’s perspective, “unleashing a culture of corruption would enable British financial interests to retain control of the South African economy. Nothing so discredits democratic governance as corruption.” He says Englishmen “used men such as Modise to do their ‘dirty work’. The hard-won battle for freedom would be short-lived and the struggle against apartheid would be betrayed by greedy and unscrupulous ANC politicians.”

But the corruption did not only affect the arms deal. Crawford-Browne says it extended to “oil deals, toll roads, driver’s licences, the proposed Cell C cellphone system, the Coega harbour development, drugs and weapons trafficking, diamond smuggling and money laundering.

“The common denominator was a ten per cent kickback to the ANC in return for political protection.”

Crawford-Browne says Thabo Mbeki’s “disastrous presidency” from 1999 to 2008 was defined by Zimbabwe, Aids and the arms deal scandal. “The arms deal eventually became the cause of Mbeki’s ignominious dismissal from office.”

He is scathing of the new ANC elite, saying: “Like the Afrikaners before them, the political elite were quickly corrupted by sudden acquisition of unearned wealth. The banks competed to fund them with recklessly leveraged and unsustainable loans. Other than purchases of luxury cars, houses and ostentatious consumption, the new elite have contributed virtually nothing to post-apartheid South Africa’s economic or social development. On the contrary, misallocation of resources is reflected in non-delivery riots all over the country.”

Even supposed “good guys”, like Thabo Mbeki’s brother Moeletsi, can’t escape. While praising some of his views on the co-option of the black elite by big business, Crawford-Browne notes that his “commentaries would however hold greater validity were it not for his association with his former business partner Ivor Ichikowitz, an arms trader, a wheeler dealer who makes no apologies for bribing his way into business deals with dubious governments.”

And what of MK? Crawford-Browne says they were “infiltrated by the British MI6 as early as the 1980s, perhaps even earlier”, in a bid to “ensure that British interests received preferential treatment” and that South Africa remained “a cheap supplier of natural resources”.

So who killed Chris Hani in April 1993, and why? Crawford-Browne says Hani’s death was “a major objective towards achieving Mbeki’s ambition to succeed Mandela. Modise and the MK leadership have many times been accused of involvement with [Janus] Walus in that killing. Amongst still unanswered questions is whether Walus was ultimately employed by John Bredenkamp and BAE.”

And what of former defence minister Modise? “Modise, who in his youth was a township thug, allegedly became an operative for the United States CIA plus the British MI6, as well as the SA Police.” He says Modise was “loathed by many MK soldiers because of his brutality”. Winnie Mandela refused to attend his funeral, instead attending that of FW de Klerk’s former wife, Marike.

But then Winnie was also no angel, says Crawford-Browne, who notes here “dabbling in diamond smuggling with Hazel Crane and her husband, the Israeli gangster Shai Avissar”. Crane was gunned down in 2003.

As I said, the web of intrigue is incredibly thick and complicated. It addresses the bizarre scenario of the just-released Mandela paying a visit to Indonesian military dictator Mohamed Suharto in 1990 to pick up a check of $10-million for ANC campaign funds. “Other payments flowed from Malaysia, Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia. Before long South Africa’s foreign policies in the post-apartheid era were being determined by bribes to the ANC.”

Another fall-out among ANC comrades involves Mbeki and Allan Boesak. Crawford-Browne, who had campaigned for banking sanctions against the apartheid government in October 1989, said he had earlier met Mbeki in Lusaka, “when the ANC national executive committee approved a proposal by the Archbishop of Canterbury to use his good offices to mediate between the international banking committee and the ANC, and thus to speed the pending collapse of the apartheid system”.

But, he says, “Boesak reveals in his book Running With Horses [that] Mbeki was double-dealing and was actively colluding with [British prime minister Margaret]
Thatcher just two weeks later to derail the banking sanctions initiative”.
Crawford-Browne goes on to claim Boesak’s “subsequent legal troubles and imprisonment were driven by collusion between Mbeki and right-wing Danish politicians. In other words, Boesak was framed by Mbeki to neutralise him politically, and the court that convicted him was a travesty”.

Nelson Mandela is revealed again and again as a bit of a dupe. “He kept company with dubious characters and thugs from Muammar Gaddafi to Charles Taylor. He was blinkered about the motives of flattering donors, and oblivious to probable consequences.”

He notes that Mandela wrote a foreword to Saudi Prince Bandar’s biography. Bandar was “the only foreigner invited to witness his secret marriage to Graca Machel”. In his foreword Mandela called Bandar an “outstanding man”, a “man of principle, a diplomat of astonishing calibre, and one of the great peacemakers of our time”. Yet, says Crawford-Browne, soon after the biography was published, “Bandar was ‘outed’ as a ‘bagman’ for both the CIA and BAE”. Elsewhere, the full extent of Bandar’s wheeler-dealing is dealt with in detail.

And what of Toyko Sexwale? Crawford-Browne says his fortune “is repeatedly linked to diamonds from the DRC. Indeed, the still unresolved murder in 2005 of [Brett] Kebble, Sexwale’s mentor, is suspected to be connected to a blood diamond deal gone wrong. In reports by the UN and the Donen Commission, Sexwale was named as one of the prime beneficiaries of the Iraqi oil-for-food scam”.

Kebble, he says, had “embezzled an estimated R2-billion”, but at his funeral “government representatives competed in their lavish praise for the crook”. And, as the plot thickens, we learn that “Kebble’s murder was linked to … Jackie Selebi”. The former police chief had been protected from prosecution by three presidents over a 10-year period. “The original charges against Selebi included diamond trafficking.” When he was finally charged in 2009, the government said testimony against him by a former head of National Intelligence would “jeopardise national security”.

Crawford-Browne says Mbeki “encouraged corruption amongst the ANC hierarchy because his Machiavellian traits appreciated that involvement in organised crime afforded him a measure of protection from political rivalries. He could always threaten to expose corruption, and thus keep his rivals in line. Jacob Zuma may have had sticky fingers in connection with the arms deal, but they were not nearly as sticky as Mbeki’s.”

Mbeki also resented the fact that “South Africa’s revolution and its transition from apartheid were driven by civil society and the UDF, not by the ANC in exile or MK ...”

He also praises the media which “in the 1980s, despite huge difficulties got the apartheid struggle story out to the international community. It was the media that in the years since the arms deal scandal first broke continued to investigate the corruption that permeated the hierarchy of ANC exiles.”

He further explains how the recent exploitation of the biggest and richest diamond field in the world, at Marange in eastern Zimbabwe, has salvaged the beleaguered Robert Mugabe, and who the white men are behind its success, keeping the dictator afloat. Then there is the question of the Bush-Bin Laden family connections, and the dubious activities of Mark Thatcher.

The book includes a superb history of the diamond and gold rush in South Africa, and the pivotal roles played by Cecil John Rhodes, De Beers, Anglo American, the Oppenheimers, Britain and many others, in shaping the future of South Africa. And all the time, the sale of armaments lurks.

“Margaret Thatcher in 1981 reorganised and privatised the British armaments industry as British Aerospace, now known as BAE. In the subsequent three decades BAE, in conjunction with America’s own covert operations, has become central to joint British and US destabilisation efforts in Asia and Africa, and including post-apartheid South Africa. BAE is organised crime on a scale that, frankly, makes the Italian mafia seem like saints.”

Elsewhere he explores the formation of the state of Israel, and the key role apartheid South Africa paid in helping it establish its armaments industry. There is also an analysis of the importance of Africa as a source of much of the world’s platinum, diamonds, manganese, cobalt, gold and uranium. And, of course, increasingly, of oil, with the US set to get a quarter of its oil from Angola by 2015.

Even the assassination of JF Kennedy comes under scrutiny. Was it perhaps linked to JFK’s opposition to extra taxation for armaments?  And what of the 1961 assassination of the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba? Was the CIA behind it? And did the CIA and MI5 have a role in bringing down UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold’s plane, also in 1961, to further destabilise the area? Since 1996, we learn, between 6- and 10 million people have died in the Congo holocaust.

Also unpacked is the US’s role in backing apartheid South Africa’s war against Angola’s Marxist MPLA, with China ironically arming SA ally Unita. You’ll learn about arms dealer Viktor Bout’s role in the whole sorry saga, and Kader Asmal’s flaccid response.

The nefarious facts behind the 1994 Rwanda genocide are also dealt with, along with Zimbabwe’s disastrous military escapades in the DRC. Again, diamond and arms deals proliferate. And, after DRC President Laurent Kabila’s assassination in 2001, who should provide security for his son, Joseph, but Israel, whose need for industrial diamonds and other rare minerals knew no bounds.

You’ll find out how Angolan President  Jose Eduardo dos Santos became stinking rich through “squirreling away” the country’s oil and diamond wealth. Israeli diamond mogul Lev Leviev’s name crops up again and again as an alleged launderer of blood diamonds.

Fascinating, too, is how apartheid South Africa and  Israel had a symbiotic relationship for decades based on diamonds, uranium, money and armaments, including nuclear weapons, especially in the wake of the 1977 UN arms embargo. Even Nazi sympathiser B J Vorster, the SA premier, was happy to be feted in Israel in 1973. A secret defence agreement was signed in 1975. The countries even conducted a joint nuclear test over the Atlantic in 1979, says Crawford-Browne.

And that is where the present arms deal saga again emerges, because in 1997, Crawford-Browne writes, Israel refurbished and upgraded 38 Kfir fighter aircraft, which the SA Air Force renamed as Cheetahs. They were derivatives of French Mirages. Provision was made for a further 16 and had an operational lifespan of 15 years. The Cheetahs programme, first negotiated in 1988, cost R2-billion in the mid-1990s, though he says “perhaps as much as R20-billion at 2011 values was actually squandered”.

The bottom line, though, was that SA had “perfectly adequate, virtually new fighter aircraft in 1997 when the late Joe Modise and then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki embarked on the arms deal”. They argued, he says, that “potentially embarrassing diplomatic repercussions” for the ANC government could arise should they be dependent on Israeli military technology.

Is all this the stuff of conspiracy theory? Or is it the shocking truth? Read this book and you be the judge.

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