"Never again shall South Africa be the fountainhead of conflict in the region and further afield.  Never again shall our country be the source of armaments used to suppress our neighbours.  Never again shall we spend our people's resources to develop weapons of mass destruction." -Nelson Mandela, March 1995

Years of apartheid resulted in class, race and other inequalities within our society. The struggle against apartheid which lasted for decades and claimed the lives of many was mainly about redressing these imbalances. And about creating a society whereby all citizens, not just a few, benefited from the country’s resources.

 With the transition to democracy in 1994, many South Africans realised that the society they were going to inherit from the apartheid regime was a highly militarised one. Militarisation manifested itself in a culture of violence and disrespect for human life, in a secretive arms industry and in high spending on the military. The democratically elected government took steps to reduce this militarisation mainly by curbing the defence budget. In this context, the annual defence budget was scaled down. From 1989 it dropped by about 50% to R9.4 billion in 1997. This released resources for reconstruction and development. Since 1998 however, this process has been reversed owing to massive arms acquisitions.

In September 1999 when the cabinet announced the R29.9 billion arms deals, we were promised that the deals would generate offsets of R110 billion in investments and 65 000 jobs. But what was touted as an economic salvation for the country has turned into a disaster. Firstly, the cost of the deals has been soaring and by April this year it had gone up to R51 billion. Military Spending will not necessarily decline at the finalisation of the current weapons purchase programme. Still pending, is a rearmament programme for the army expected to cost the taxpayer an additional R13, 6 billion.

 These arms deals represent not only the biggest ever-commercial deal for South Africa, but for all sub-Saharan Africa.

Moreover, even our Minister of Trade and Industry acknowledges that the offsets and promised jobs will not be as high as expected. According to him the 65 000 jobs have now turned into only 15 000 direct jobs with the remainder to be indirect and the R110 billion investments have been reduced to R104 billion. Is it naïve to ask why if the costs of the arms deals keep rising, the promised investments are dropping instead of rising concomitantly?

 Our government has not been transparent or honest about the costs and benefits of the arms deals. Most importantly though is the fact that international experience tells us that the offsets and the jobs will be even less than what the minister figures. So we should not hold out much hope that the arms deals will make any significant contribution to poverty eradication. What the deals will nevertheless show is the misdirection of our resources which sorely are needed to enhance socio-economic development. Will future generations judge us kindly for this profligacy?

 Also of importance have been the allegations of impropriety and irregularities surrounding the deals. These are causing our standing irreparable damage worldwide. Public figures who were once held in high esteem, are now under suspicion and the public’s confidence and trust in its leaders will suffer a serious blow, especially because of the government’s tardiness in addressing the allegations. Nationally and internationally our commitment to tackle corruption without fear or favour will no longer be taken seriously.

 On top of all this South Africa is now becoming an exporter of arms to illegitimate regimes.



  • Arms Deals in 1999 – R30 bn

  • Arms Deals in 2001 – R51 bn

  • Arms Deals in 2018 – R287 bn?

  • Additional Arms Deals – R13,6 bn

  • Debt Servicing Deals – R50bn



  • Community water supply and sanitation – R1/2 bn

  • Land reform – R1 bn

  • Local govt. equitable share –  R2 bn

  • Housing – R4 bn


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Source: Information kindly provided by Ceasefire Campaign, Johannesburg, Rep. South Africa.