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Witnesses lined up for arms deal inquiry

Thabo Mbeki is one of the witnesses who will testify in the first phase of the inquiry.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki. Picture: GCIS

CAPE TOWN - Top ranking navy and air force officials will be among the first witnesses to testify when the commission of inquiry into South Africa's controversial multibillion rand arms deal gets underway next month.

Former President Thabo Mbeki and members of his cabinet, including Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, are among those who will be called to give evidence.

Why did South Africa enter into the multibillion rand arms deal, were the arms and equipment bought a boon or a bane for the defence force, and did the promised offsets materialise?

It is these questions the commission wants answered first.

The commission has said exploring allegations of fraud corruption and impropriety in the arms deal will only come later.

The commission said public hearings will start in Pretoria on 5 August and is set to run until 31 January 2014.

Commission Spokesman William Baloyi said this will depend on President Jacob Zuma extending the life of the inquiry beyond November.

Baloyi added that Mbeki won't appear before the commission before early next year.

"According to the timetable that has been issued by the commission he is scheduled to testify from 25 to 28 January 2014."

At least 12 whistle-blowers were initially called to testify in March, but the hearings were postponed because the commission was not ready.

The commission was set up by Zuma in 2011. He appointed Judge Willie Seriti to head the probe.

However, the commission has been hit by problems before it even got underway. In January, senior investigator Norman Moabi quit the commission.

Moabi wrote to Judge Seriti alleging that the commission was not transparent and had a "second agenda".

In May, commission secretary Mvuseni Ngubane was found dead in his car in KwaZulu-Natal.

Police said a suicide note was found next to his body.

Zuma has given the commission two years to complete its work and a further six months to hand in its report to him.

ARMS DEAL

The arms deal was completed in 1999 and cost South Africa up to R38 billion at the time.

It involved companies from Sweden, Britain, France, Germany and Italy and it is estimated that up to R1.1 billion in bribes was paid.

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