SOUTH AFRICA, SWEDEN: Church leaders say arms deal weakens new democracy

March 30, 2010

South African and Swedish church leaders have reiterated grave concerns that a 10-year-old arms deal that involved Sweden with South Africa threatens the fledgling African democracy.

The deal to sell armaments to South Africa also involved other European and Western nations such as Britain, France and Germany. It was signed a decade ago, estimated at around US$4.8 billion.

"As predicted, the arms deal unleashed a culture of corruption that has severely undermined the transition in South Africa from apartheid to democracy," said Cape Town's Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and its incumbent Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, along with the Swedish church leaders.

The two Anglican leaders wrote a joint article with Emeritus Archbishop K.G. Hammar of the Church of Sweden and Karin Wiborn, a Baptist who is chairperson of the Christian Council of Sweden. It was published on March 28, in the South African weekly Sunday Times newspaper and Sweden's daily Dagens Nyheter.

They said recent riots across South Africa protesting against government failures to deliver essential services can be linked to prioritizing on the procurement of costly military goods.

"Just a few weeks before the signing of the contract between Sweden and South Africa on the export of Swedish Gripen fighter aircraft, the South African Council of Churches and the Christian Council of Sweden convened a seminar in Cape Town -- on November 24, 1999 -- on the topic of 'Defence Expenditure and Poverty Alleviation,'" the leaders said. "A joint declaration between the two Christian councils was adopted in which we expressed our deep concerns about how the arms deal would harm the governance, legitimacy and anti-corruptive work in both Sweden and South Africa."

The arms deal was the biggest military transfer in history between industrialized countries and Africa.

"Now, more than a decade later, we are sad and concerned that the concerns we raised were well founded," the leaders added. "The arms deal is described by the Institute For Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) as 'the litmus test of South Africa's commitment to democracy and good governance."

They said that South Africa's government had "succumbed to economically absurd arguments and pressure" from European governments that the arms deal would create more than 65,000 jobs, and thereby stimulate the economy.

"These promises have so far turned out to be mainly empty words," they said.

The church leaders repeated the declaration made 10 years ago, calling for "an independent judicial inquiry into the allegations of corruption which have been made in connection with the arms procurement deal."

They pledged to work closely with church, community, and other civil society organizations to develop and implement plans for the conversion of military bases and defense industries to productive civilian use.

The church leaders also call on the Swedish government to cooperate fully in these inquiries, to suspend the sale of arms to South Africa until the review process is complete, and to urge the British, German and Italian governments and suppliers to take similar action.