8 October 2008,ANC South Africa's former defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota held a press conference at 702 radio stations studio's in Johannesburg to discuss the future of the ruling ANC. Picture. Steve Lawrence 02

Pretoria - The controversial 1999 arms deal was cost effective and necessary for South Africa, former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota said on Tuesday.

Lekota was cross-examined by anti-arms deal campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne at the Seriti Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria.

"Constitutional requirements state that government procurements must be fair, equitable transparent and cost-effective. Yet we have heard that cost was removed from consideration in respect to BAE (Systems) contracts on the Gripen and Hawk contracts," said Crawford-Browne.

"The BAE contracts amount to roughly the cost of the entire arms deal. Did cabinet even apply its mind on whether the arms deal was illegal or unconstitutional right from the inception?" Lekota responded: "I do not subscribe to that view. I was convinced along others that it (the arms deal) was in the interests of the country, it was the correct thing, it was affordable and I voted along."

Crawford-Browne put it to Lekota that the arms deal transactions were a payback by former president Thabo Mbeki to Lekota's predecessor, the late Joe Modise, for supporting Mbeki's bid in supporting first president Nelson Mandela.

Chairman of the commission, Judge Willie Seriti, disallowed Crawford-Browne's question.

Crawford-Browne then asked Lekota to explain, as former chairman of the African National Congress after 1997, whether the party used money garnered from arms deal bribes to fund its 1999 election campaign.

Seriti disallowed that question as well.

The anti-arms deal activist went on: "Mr Lekota, the warplanes were not bought for any rational South African defence force need but for the bribes. The equipment itself was irrelevant.

"As an example, it is public knowledge that the BAE Gripens are now mainly in storage as South Africa does not have qualified pilots to fly them, mechanics to maintain them and even the money to fuel them. We don't have the personnel," said Crawford-Browne.

Lekota, who is currently the leader of the Congress of the People, said there were credible grounds for South Africa to purchase the weaponry.

"There was determination on the part of government that there would not be any accommodation for corruption. The rationale for the acquisition was clearly set out. It was approved by the National Assembly," he said. "I have not come across anything to suggest to me that this major national project could have been taken to benefit one or two individuals, or whatever number.

" If I had an inclination that this (deal) was for corruption, I would not have accepted (the) appointment as defence minister," said Lekota.

The government acquired, among other hardware, 26 Gripen fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft for the air force, and frigates and submarines for the navy.

Lekota will still be on the witness stand on Wednesday morning. Former finance minister Trevor Manuel will testify after Lekota.