Allan Urry

30.04.03

Looking up from the balcony of our hotel, I can see the summit of Table Mountain shrouded in mist, rather like our story. File on Four is in South Africa, investigating arms deals.

The Government here has signed contracts with big European consortiums, including BAE Systems, which won the lion’s share and is providing war planes. There are allegations of corruption and irregularities, never proven.

South Africa can ill afford these weapons, and critics argue they’ve bought the wrong equipment for the wrong reasons.

I spent part of last week in Prague, looking at a similar situation involving BAES, and its Swedish partner SAAB, trying to secure a deal to provide supersonic fighterplanes to the Czechs. The ruling political party tried to rush through the process with suspicious haste.

My flight to Africa was four hours late, having been stuck on the Tarmac at Heathrow with a rather worrying fault involving the plane’s hydraulic system.

By the time producer Jenny Chryss meets me at Cape Town International 16 hours later, I’ve had no sleep overnight, and no time for breakfast, a shower or a shave. We drive straight to our first appointment, a rare interview with one of South Africa’s leading anti-corruption investigators, former judge Willem Heath.

Heath, an impressive man, tells us how the Government blocked his Special Investigations Unit from launching a formal inquiry to get to the bottom of corruption allegations – allegations he believes are valid. He is gracious about my wild, unshaven appearance and rumbling stomach.

01.05.03

After an early morning encounter with a well meaning but over helpful hotel car park attendant, who tries to assist us reversing out of a tight space by standing in the way of our ancient hire car, waving, smiling and pointing in all the wrong directions, we interview two leading opposition MPs at Cape Town’s parliament buildings.

One, Dr Gavin Woods, was forced out of his chairmanship of the country’s Public Accounts committee after persisting with questions about financial irregularities.

The other, Raenette Taljaard, has grave concerns about the lack of delivery of BAES’ civilian investment programme for South Africa, which was tied into the deal to buy the war planes. Both seem genuinely upset about the murky reputation their Government is beginning to attract because of this arms deal. There are other interviews during the day.

When we return to the hotel, the producer enters the car park at high speed, hoping to avoid the attendant’s attention, but he’s lying in wait and laboriously misdirects us into a space from which we will struggle to emerge.

It’s been my first opportunity as a fully conscious, rested human being to admire this jewel of a city, which has been bathed in warm autumn sunshine.

02.05.03

We tiptoe into the car park early, but he confronts us, complaining we’ve parked badly in the space to which he directed us yesterday!

The producer turns air blue and roars off at the highest speed offered by a very old Toyota with a dodgy exhaust. An interview with a campaigner who is suing the Government, claiming the arms deal is unconstitutional because it wasn’t approved by Parliament, is followed by a frustrating day hoping to link up with “security forces personnel” who claim to have more information on corruption. They don’t show at our agreed rendezvous. We’ve wasted hours we can ill afford.

As the sun goes down on our day I go for a run along the waterfront. Beside me, the ocean is a sparkle of crushed diamonds and sapphires. Table Mountain is bathed in deep golden light.

The assignment’s progress feels as slow as my jogging, but at least both are lumbering forward.

03.05.03

“Source” finally turns up and does interview. We’ve also gathered more information about the failing of the civil investment programme tied to the arms deal.

An interview with a leading ANC politician who’s committee is supposed to oversee it, reveals how weak the system of scrutiny is, and how much the projections for investment have been scaled down. The mist is clearing. Tomorrow we fly home, but this evening our main objective is to park the car unhindered.

In a rare moment of weakness the attendent has crossed the road to talk to a colleague. A gear change, a surge of exhaust fumes, a handbrake turn. He trails in our wake. Mission accomplished.

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