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Pretoria - The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was not involved in corruption as some arms deal critics claimed, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry heard on Thursday.
It was critical for South Africans to understand the position of the armed forces regarding the controversial arms acquisition, SA Navy Rear Admiral Robert Higgs said while giving evidence for the second day in Pretoria.
“I believe that if we have an adequately equipped, well-trained and funded (military), it will help our economy to develop. Countries like Singapore and South Korea have done it well,” he said.
“There has to be credibility and trust. People must know that we don’t do corruption. If people perceived me to be corrupt, upfront I would not have credibility to be here and the people of South Africa would not believe me.”
Evidence leader Simmy Lebala asked Higgs about the rationale of buying high-tech military hardware in an African country riddled with socio-economic problems.
“The critics will say we did not need these capabilities. They will say we are punching above our weight because it doesn’t matter which capabilities we acquire, we will remain an African state with better things to focus on,” said Lebala.
Higgs said South Africa was capable of balancing its needs perfectly.
“Chairman, I believe South Africa can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are capable of doing both and it comes to balance. It’s a matter of looking at it and being smart,” he said.
“The military adds a different dimension. People say you are a paper tiger if you talk without a military behind you. I believe there is a lot of credence to that.”
Lebala said critics argued the equipment was now lying obsolete without being maintained because the SANDF did not need it.
“The critics are saying we have four frigates and three submarines and we can’t maintain them. They are stuck in their own tracks, some are at the harbour and the engines are breaking,” he said.
“It (the arms deal) was a wastage, it defeats the same purpose of this acquisition that we went through.”
Higgs said maintenance in a navy was a continuous process.
“Maintaining a navy is continually renewing its capabilities. It is not a matter of buying four frigates and three submarines and forgetting about the navy for 30 years,” he said.
“If one looks at our huge responsibilities off the coast, the foreign policy initiatives that we are underpinning, one would look at it in a different context. Those submarines and frigates are the building blocks and they are exceedingly modest,” Higgs said.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal. - Sapa