Former president Thabo Mbeki and the likes of ANC veteran Trevor Manuel should take collective responsibility for not taking allegations of corruption involving the multibillion-rand arms deal seriously, says Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Patricia de Lille.
De Lille, who blew the whistle on the arms deal almost 22 years ago in Parliament, says she was subjected to death threats and vilification for speaking out about the alleged corruption involving the military acquisition project concluded in the late 1990s.
Speaking in an interview with Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday evening, she recalled an encounter in Parliament with Manuel, who was the then finance minister.
A ‘useful idiot’
De Lille said when she exposed the corruption involving the arms deal, Manuel called her a “useful idiot” who was advancing the interests of failed bidders for the acquisition project.
“Once I was confronting them about the arms deal in Parliament and Trevor Manuel called me a useful idiot for the bidders that didn’t win. I was quite shocked but I didn’t go and sit in a corner and cry.
“I waited for the next moment when he was in Parliament. I told him, ‘minister you are a useful idiot because we don’t have bottomless pits of money that you can just go and spend’,” she said.
De Lillie said there were many other ministers at the time who also vilified her and other whistleblowers for speaking out. She said former justice minister Penuell Maduna was among them and Mbeki even called them liars on national television.
“They had a press conference in Johannesburg, they were calling Gavin Woods and myself and all of us names. So, I think there must be collective responsibility for what happened during that time.
The then-president Thabo Mbeki had on a Friday night a live press conference on SABC where he accused all of us of lying. That’s when we all started getting death threats after that.
De Lillie was the first witness to be called to the stand in former president Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturer Thales’ corruption case related to the arms deals.
‘The truth will come out’
However, the trial was postponed to 26 May 2021 after Zuma’s new legal team requested more time to familiarise themselves with the case.
Among the allegations is that the former president received an annual kickback of R500,000 – paid through his then financial advisor, Schabir Shaik – in exchange for shielding Thales from an investigation into the deal and he is said to have accepted a total of 783 dodgy payments from the company.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said on Monday all its 217 witnesses were ready to testify and it had made the necessary preparations.
Despite the arms deal case having dragged on for years and a commission of inquiry finding no evidence of corruption, De Lillie said she still believed the truth will come out.
“It’s a very chequered history that we’ve gone through, but you know what? The truth will always survive, that we know. It might take longer, but the truth will always come out,” she said.