Critic of South African rulers wants arms deal inquiry

Outspoken South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for a judicial inquiry into a controversial 1999 multi-billion pound arms deal.

ANC leader Jacob Zuma currently faces corruption charges related to the $4.8bn purchase. If acquitted, Zuma, who heads the governing party, is almost certain to succeed Thabo Mbeki as South African president after elections in 2009.

Archbishop Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said South Africa's real enemies were not military, but poverty, disease and homelessness.

"We need to do something about the arms deal," he said during a guest lecture at the University of the Western Cape, commemorating the late anti-apartheid activist and Justice Minister Dullah Omar.

To buy sophisticated machines we did not need... would be laughable if it was not so serious", said
Archbishop Tutu.

"We owe it to those who paid a heavy price for our freedom, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our future that a thorough independent judicial inquiry happens as a matter of urgency," the archbishop said.

The 1999 deal was the first major arms purchase by the ANC government, after the lifting of an arms embargo imposed during apartheid.

It was first questioned in the South African parliament by Patricia De Lille, a courageous Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) MP. She was vilified in the news media by ANC leaders when she demanded the contact be cancelled and the money spent on health care and other social services.

Zuma's former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, is serving a 15-year jail sentence on charges that included soliciting bribes in connection with the arms purchases.

A corruption case against Zuma collapsed in 2006, but he is expected to go on trial again later this year after prosecutors say they have new evidence against him.

At the time of the arms purchase, Zuma was a provincial ANC leader.

In another case connected to the arms deal, Tony Yengeni, a member of the ANC's national executive and a former MP, was jailed for fraud in 2006 but released after five months.

"To buy sophisticated machines we did not need, for which we did not have the trained personnel, would be laughable if it was not so serious," Archbishop Tutu said.

He also criticised the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation as being "sycophantic" and "an echo of His Master's Voice".

Tutu was put in charge of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the ANC won power.