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This century’s most important South African book

- Wits University

Everyone should read “Apartheid Guns and Money – A tale of profit”, says Professor Achille Mbembe.

Mbembe was speaking at the launch of the much-talked book Apartheid Guns and Money – A tale of profit, a exposé on the long historic shadow of state capture in South Africa.

“It is probably the single most important book that has been written about South Africa for the last 20 years,” said Mbembe, Research Professor at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

In over 600 pages, this meticulously researched book by activist, writer and Director of Open Secrets, Hennie van Vuuren, finally lifts the lid on some of the darkest secrets of apartheid’s economic crimes, weaving together a treasure trove of newly declassified documents and eyewitness accounts.

Speaking at the book’s launch and panel discussion hosted by WiSER, Mbembe said: “The book let us have a deeper look at the long history of state capture in South Africa and the extent to which what is understood to be corruption has deep roots in the past.

“This book also allows us to reframe in new ways the question of economic justice, reparations, what it takes to move from the previous dispensation to the radically new one. And it does reframe in new terms the question of accountability. The extent to which we cannot allow the current government and any government to come to operate the way the apartheid government did operate.

“It seems to me it is a book everyone who reads, should read,” Mbembe said.

No myth – follow the money

Apartheid Guns and Money debunks the myth that the apartheid regime was self-sufficient, isolated and that it did not need the international community during the sanctions-period from the late 70s to early 90s.

This was not the case as the many examples of sanctions busting the the book demonstrate.

It maps the global covert network of nearly 50 countries, heads of state, arms dealers, aristocrats, plotucrats, securocrats, senators, bankers, spies, journlists, lobbyists and businessmen that moved cash, illegally supplied guns and created an apartheid arms money machine while whistleblowers were assasinated and ordinary people suffered.

The right to know

Speaking at the launch, Van Vuuren said another myth that South Africans have almost accepted the past two decades is that no documents have survived from the apartheid regime that can help to discover these truths about the deep state or shadow government of the apartheid regime.

“We do know that over 40 tonnes of documents were burnt at the time of South Africa’s democratic transition in the early 90s. However, there is a big source of material in the various archives in Pretoria and elsewhere that remains unearthed largely by civil society, researchers and academics.

“We relied heavily on access to these archival material. Working together with the South African History Archive, Lawyers for Human Rights, the Right2Know Campaign and others we have had to threaten to take many government departments to court and that has resulted, in times, to quite extraordinary access to material particularly in archives that were not destroyed, such as the Military Archives (the Department of Defence archive in Pretoria),” Van Vuuren said.

Their work has also strenghtend calls to have the Apartheid Archive released in full for all to access.

With his team of researchers – including Michael Marchant, Anine Kriegler and Murray Hunter – Van Vuuren collected 40 000 documents in 25 public archives, locally and internationally, and worked through two million pages of documents.

What they uncovered is the first, comprehenive look at the who’s who of bankers, businessmen, securocrats, front companies, secret tax havens, shell companies, politicians and lobbyists who have constructed a network of state capture that persist in our democtratic politcal system today.

Get me Roger Stone

By following the money, Van Vuuren shows in the book how somebody like the controvercial American lobbyist, Roger Stone, who was until recently being investigated by the FBI for his attempts to link Donald Trump with the Russian government during the US Presidential Elections last year, is one of the figures who is linked to the apartheid security establishment in the 1980s. “We must not forget that Trump had said that Roger Stone is one of his closest associates and mentors for the last 30 years,” Van Vuuren said. Netflix last week released the documentary Get me Roger Stone, that examines the rise, fall and rebirth of political operative, Stone, who's been an influential member of Team Trump for decades.

Botha, Zuma and the French firm

“While our focus is primarily examining the so-called deep state network internationally in politics, and the intelligence agencies, arms companies and middle-men that facilitated many of these deals, our interest is also to look at South Africa and to understand the role that the private sector played in facilitating sanctions busting and actively did so,” he said.

One prime example is the French company Thomson CSF. “One of our earliest documents show how PW Botha went to France in the late ‘60s, bunks down in a hotel with the head of Thomson CSF and in the morning they go out together to a missile testing range where the South Africans are providing the cash and Thomson CSF is building these missiles.

“Thomson CSF’s relationship continues with the apartheid regime right throughout the ‘70s and the ‘80s, clandestinely as some of the documents show. And in the early ‘90s the company was quick to set up an office in South Africa. By the late ‘90s it changes its name to Thales Group, today one of the biggest arms companies in Europe and also the company that is alleged to have paid most of the bribe money to President Jacob Zuma in the South Africa’s infamous arms deal.”

Many more secrets waiting to be discovered

“We need not remain captured by these elements of the past that simply are not spoken about,” Van Vuuren said, adding that his book shows how the past and present are interconnected, and in forging our future a new generation needs to grapple with the persistent silence regarding apartheid-era economic crime and ask the difficult questions of those who benefitted from it.

There still remains many secrets – past and current – to be discovered.

In order to aide researchers, journalists, writers, historians, investigators, lawyers and the public to access, Open Secrets together with the South African History Archive will make available the book’s source documents for public scrutiny.

Other panelists included Associate Professor Bonita Meyersfeld, Director of the Centre of Applied Legal Studies at Wits, and Yasmin Sooka, leading human rights lawyer and Commissioner in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).