Reviewed by Keith Gottschalk
Terry Crawford-Browne is the doyen of veteran anti-armaments activists in South Africa. He heads the South African affiliate of Economists Allied for Arms Reduction, today renamed Economists for Peace and Security (EPS).
Terry’s previous books include Eye on the Money (Umuzi) exposing the arms deal bribery and corruption in the 1990s, and Eye on the Diamond (Penguin).
His latest book is dedicated to archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu for his inspirational leadership against apartheid, “a ‘miracle’ then betrayed by corruption in the African National Congress in collusion with European governments and arms companies”.
Eye on the Gold is structured into four parts. Part One “Mlungu Tegate – White Man’s Plunder” is a historical section dealing with gold and plunder through the centuries, culminating in Cecil Rhodes and the Randlords after 1910.
Part Two, “We Marched for Peace in Cape Town,” is the most personal part of the book, summarising “why a banker became a revolutionary” during the 1980s struggle.
Part Three, “Betrayal of the Struggle,” takes us through the 1990s and 21st century in the aftermath of the arms deal.
Part Four, “America against the World,” discusses some aspects of US imperialism, with a focus on the role of the dollar in the global financial system.
What are the book’s main takeaways for a critical left-wing readership?
First are eternal issues: what proportion of state expenditure in a developing country, where half the population lives in poverty, should be spent on the military in general and armaments in particular?
As this review goes to press, the annual military budget cannot afford to maintain more than one submarine out of three, and one frigate out of four, on patrol at any one time. South Africans have never seen more than three Gripen fighter jets out of the 26 fly at any one time (p.206). Irrefutably, therefore, it was financially irresponsible to pay for weapons the country cannot afford to maintain and use.
Crawford-Browne has argued elsewhere that priority should have been not frigates and submarines but coastguard vessels that could intercept fish poachers everywhere between Marion Island and Gansbaai. The frigate had to be withdrawn from further patrols against pirates in the Mozambique channel because it was too expensive to maintain on patrol. Likewise, instead of fighter aircraft, should not the SAAF priority have been more helicopters with Bambi buckets for firefighting?
This reviewer does not fully agree with Crawford-Browne’s dismissal of the principle of offset contracts as a fraud. As I understand it, the principle is that a foreign contractor will, as a condition of the tender, sub-contract one or more local firms as a production partner in not merely the original arms contract, but also as a sub-contractor in future contracts in its home country, and also in third party countries.
One instance of a genuine example was when Denel Aerostructures started manufacturing parts for the Military Airbus consortium, with the intention that the SAAF would purchase several planes for transport to peacekeeping deployments elsewhere in our continent. (This contract was cancelled, and Denel later stopped participation in this value chain).
But Terry hits the nail on the head with his exposure that the foreign firms in the 1990s arms deal in fact provided less than 3% of the offsets, and hence less than 3% of the jobs, provided in the contracts (p.204). Surely the government should be suing the foreign firms for only part fulfilment of their contracts?
Second is an issue that pacifists, feminists and ecologists will make. The book records the tragedy when eight workers were killed at the Rheinmetall munitions factory in Cape Town (pp.224-225). But someone must ask the question: if those eight workers had not been killed by what they were making for export, might it not have killed eight working class or other poor people in Yemen?
Looking back on the arms deal from 2020, it is sobering to note that the aborted nuclear power station deal would have been for more than ten times the cost of the arms deal.
Third, this book comes as a warning to civil society activists that they should never choose the strategy of lawfare before getting written guarantees of financial support from NGOs or philanthropists before they start to litigate. Terry mentions a few of his court victories and defeats. One defeat alone left him with a bill of one million rand for costs. Even when lawyers offer their services pro bono, they will not contribute to costs awarded against you.
Fourth, a reviewer must note the moral courage of Terry in openly discussing how the 1980s struggles caused him burn-out, a nervous breakdown, and the need for psychotherapy. Today, post-traumatic stress disorder is more widely known and accepted, and a few others have also discussed their experience with this after their struggle years.
As readers would expect, a book by Terry Crawford-Browne comes with provocative polemics. By the second page of his preface, Terry writes of the USA: “The presidential choice in 2016 had been between a war criminal and a lunatic. Ironically, the lunatic was arguably the better option.” (p.12)
The context here is Hilary Clinton’s advocacy for repeated military interventions abroad, versus Trump’s election promises to end endless wars in the Middle East. There are too many other examples to mention in this review.
This book is a must for every activist to buy and read, and for university libraries.
Keith Gottschalk is a South African poet, known for his anti-apartheid poetry. A political scientist, he is former Head of Department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape. His cycle of astronomy and spaceflight poems is due for publication later in 2020.