Judges Musi and Seriti preside over the Arms Procurement Commission at the Sammy Marks Conference Centre in Pretoria. File picture: Chris Collingridge

Pretoria - The 1999 arms deal is seen as a marker for South Africa's degeneration into corruption and cronyism, former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein said on Thursday.

“To many, the arms deal was the point at which the ANC lost its moral compass,” he said in Pretoria.

“To many, it was the point at which Parliament, having held the executive to account for the first few years of our democracy, became not much more than a rubber stamp to the wishes of the executive.”

He said the deal was a momentous event, with drastic consequences for a young and fledgling democracy.

“It was a point at which our prosecuting authorities, our various anti-corruption bodies were politicised by the governing party to protect its own members,” Feinstein said.

“The significance of this deal, both locally and in the global context, remains profound.”

A statement by Feinstein and activists Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren said the social impact of the multi-billion rand deal “is readily dismissed by only the most cynical among us”.

They believed shutting down the Seriti Commission of Inquiry would deny South Africans a rare opportunity to understand the truth.

“We cannot allow the commission to fail its mandate and the South African people. At least four other investigations into the arms deal have failed in the past 15 years because of political interference.”

Earlier this month, arms deal critic Terry Crawford-Browne sent a supplementary affidavit to the Constitutional Court, asking it to reopen his case and to terminate the Seriti Commission.

“I said (in the affidavit to the Constitutional Court) that the commission had digressed from its terms of reference and has become a farce. They should stop wasting public funds and cancel it,” Crawford-Browne said by telephone from Cape Town.

“The people that are being called to give evidence at the commission are small fish. They had nothing to do with decision-making with regards to the procurement.”

He wanted the court to rule on the contentious arms deal contracts, estimated at R70 billion.

The retired banker took President Jacob Zuma to the Constitutional Court in 2010, in an attempt to force him to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry into the 1999 deal.

He withdrew his court bid in 2011, after Zuma's announcement that he would appoint a commission of inquiry into the arms deal.

The Constitutional Court granted an order that the president and government pay the costs of two counsel for Crawford-Browne for their services.

They also had to pay costs arising from a postponement of the matter and the costs of all interlocutory applications filed on record.

The president and government were ordered to pay the party-to-party costs of the friend of the court, the SA Institute of Race Relations.

This month, Crawford-Browne said his legal costs remained unpaid.