A small part of the murk surrounding South Africa’s multi-billion dollar arms deal cleared slightly, but only to reveal still greater depths to be plumbed. Former trade union leadr and parliamentarian Moses Mayekiso acknowledges that he, as the head of the SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco) in 1999, signed an agreement supporting the purchase of Gripen fighter jets from Saab in Sweden and its British partner, BAe. Peter Dantjie, then acting general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) added his name.
At the time, the ANC issued a press statement noting that the two organisations supported the purchase of the Gripen aircraft as part of the arms deal. However, members of the Numsa executive maintained that they had not been consulted and the union still opposed the arms deal.
It has now emerged, through the second part of a two-part Swedish television investigation screened on November 28, that a Swedish businessman with a highly chequered past was also involved with all sides concerned with the agreement. Known to Mayekiso as Leif Valfridsson and to a number of other Sanco and Numsa members merely as Leif, he had worked for the Swedish metalworkers’ union, IF Metall and arranged meetings in South Africa for the present head of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, Stefan Lofven.
According to Sweden’s TV4 Cold Facts investigative team, Valfridsson’s past includes convictions for armed robbery, burglary and homicide. A decade ago, he was also allegedly involved a series of company scams in Sweden in which Mayekiso’s name was also used. In 1999 he was working for Sanco in “an administrative capacity”.
Further inquiries this week revealed that a person known as Leif Valfridsson was born in Sweden on December 6 1955 as Erik Valfrid Larsson and has the Swedish ID number 0178. Until early 1996 the same person appears to have been known as Leif Erik Gustav Valfridsson before changing his surname to Larsson. Twelve years ago, he emerged as Erik Valfrid Larsson.
Mayekiso maintains that he has never been involved in any business dealings in Sweden with Valfridsson. Informed that the TV4 arms deal investigation had linked his name to possible corruption, Mayekiso agreed to be interviewed. He maintaines that neither he nor Dantjie saw anything wrong in signing an agreement that committed their organisations to support the purchase of Gripen aircraft in exchange for the establishment of a R10 million industrial training school.
He adds that “the ANC had already decided on the arms deal so we saw nothing wrong in supporting the Gripen in exchange for an industrial training school that we thought we needed.” He also felt at the time that the choice of the Gripen was a matter of repaying the solidarity shown by the Swedish government and trade unions for both the South African unions and the anti-apartheid struggle. The agreement was a “quid pro quo”.
However, according to arms deal campaigners Andrew Feinstein and Terry Crawford-Browne, support from Numsa and Sanco was probably crucial in getting the deal done. They point out that, at the time, the ANC faced internal pressure to pull out of the arms deal, and the South African Air Force had rejected the Gripen as unsuitable.
Crawford-Browne and the TV4 team also raise the question of perhaps more than R35 million rand that was apparently paid in bribes by both Saab and BAe and that was possibly channelled through trade unions.
“But the agreement was just about the school,” Mayekiso says. “There was no money involved and it was not just Saab. There were other companies that were also involved (in the deal to establish the school).”
Initial plans were apparently made, but there was an almost immediate rebellion within Numsa’s ranks with questions being asked about the conditional clause committing the union to supporting the Gripen purchase. In any event, as Numsa’s head of training, Dinga Sikwebu, told the Cold Facts team: “We didn’t want or need this school (it) made no sense.” As a result, Numsa repudiated the agreement, pointing out that it had never even been discussed within the union and the school project collapsed.
Amid bitter squabbles that saw Mayekiso ousted, Sanco’s ambitious Sanco Investment Holdings, with its more than 50 registered companies, also collapsed. However, one of those companies, 3rd Wave Telcoms, still appears to be active and has an Erik Valfrid Larsson as a director.