The abysmal failure to properly investigate, and prosecute, apartheid-era crimes set the scene for the "corrupt" R30-billion (in 1999 value) arms deal to unfold, the panel at the corruption Tribunal said on Wednesday.
Presenting its preliminary findings at the close of the five-day People's Tribunal On Economic Crime, a panel led by former Constitutional Court Justice Zac Yacoob was fiercely critical of the failure to bring perpetrators of economic crimes to book.
The Tribunal heard evidence of economic crimes, corruption and capture in South Africa over the past 40 years that organisers said was an exercise in "truth-telling" and an attempt to "connect the dots".
Yacoob on Wednesday said the panel believed if apartheid-era economic crimes and sanctions-busters had been properly prosecuted, it would have been less likely that economic crimes relating to the post-apartheid arms deal would have taken place.
Evidence presented on the role of the French government, Belgium's Kredietbank and a long list of political and corporate actors in circumventing a compulsory U.N. embargo on arms trade with South Africa warrants a thorough and investigation.
These companies should at minimum be investigated for aiding and abetting apartheid, a crime against humanity, he said, adding it would have been a challenge for the apartheid regime to continue if it hadn't been for the cooperation and complicity of these sanctions-busters.
Post-apartheid corruption and continuities
The panel also lambasted the post-apartheid arms deal, saying the decision to initiate these transactions was irrational and that the justification for the deal wasn't its actual purpose.
South Africa did not need the military equipment purchased, he said, adding that "any honest reasonable person would have known this".
"The purpose of the Arms Deal was to facilitate money for corrupt political people. There needs to be a rigorous investigation as soon as possible," he said.
Yacoob said the panel believes evidence heard regarding contemporary state capture, too, was just the tip of the iceberg. It recommended an immediate investigation into state capture in all its forms.
The eminent panel further recommended that evidence presented should be handed to law-enforcement authorities to pursue a thorough investigation as soon as possible.
'Let the river of justice flow'
In a closing video address presented to the Tribunal, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana — general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) — said the SACC "honours the members of the panel and evidence leaders who... have been digging for the gems of truth in a dark mine dump in the murky nexus between government, business and party-political interests".
"This is public awareness and participation in practice what we're doing today. It kicks in even when the constitutional instruments like judicial commissions of inquiry have failed," he said.
"We say in the SACC process we must ensure that never again shall the country surrender public values to the whims of politicians, regardless of party or the leadership thereof".