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Where is Apartheid Profits

Story from: TownPress

This is the 19th article in the the series, Declassified: Apartheid Profits. While researching the recently published book Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit, Open Secrets collected approximately 40,000 archival documents from 25 archives in seven countries.

This treasure trove contains damning details of the individuals and corporations that propped up apartheid and profited in return. Many of these documents were kept secret until now. Most remain hidden despite South Africa’s transition to democracy. OPEN SECRETS believes that it is vital to allow the public to scrutinise the primary evidence. This week we explore the close ties between the highly militarised pariah states of Israel and apartheid South Africa.


This past week Israel celebrated 70 years of the passing of the UN’s 1947 partition plan, making statehood a possibility the following year. On Twitter, an account retweeted by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry thanked all the countries that voted yes. One of those countries was South Africa under the Smuts government. With the advent of National Party rule in 1948  relations between the countries were strained for many years. This was unsurprising given the deeply anti-Semitic history of many National Party officials in this time, some of which had been members of the far-right Nazi sympathisers, the Ossewa Brandwag.

Despite this, as time passed both the apartheid state and Israel developed common strategic interests and crucially a shared feeling of unfair victimisation and isolation by the rest of the world. They also shared a history as oppressors – of Palestinians and black South Africans. As a result, cooperation, particularly in the arms trade, accelerated from the late 1960s. A particularly sinister aspect of this collaboration was a plan to co-develop nuclear weapons. As with North Korea today, apartheid South Africa was eyed with alarm as reports surfaced of nuclear tests over the South Atlantic and in the Kalahari desert.

By and large, the records detailing the alliance between Israel and apartheid South Africa remain under lock and key. Indeed, almost all of Open Secrets’ access to information requests to the Department of Defence pertaining to Israel were denied. However, what we have been able to piece together, building on the work of other researchers, shows a close and long-term relationship between the two. This was revealed in the book Apartheid Guns and Money.


The relationship was strongly centred around the arms trade. In the early 1970s, Israel was in dire economic straits as a result of the Yom Kippur war. At the same time, the apartheid state at war in Angola developed a growing demand for weapons. This was a perfect match of interests between pariah states. The records show that by 1975, with SADF and Armscor officials spending lengthy amounts of time in Israel, a decision was made to set up permanent shop in Tel Aviv. Echoing the secret Armscor office in Paris, the Tel Aviv office allowed the South Africans to bust sanctions under the cover of diplomacy


By the early 1990s, it was clear that white minority rule was in terminal decline as the negotiation process gathered pace. This meant that it was time to start dismantling some of the covert military operations between Pretoria and Tel Aviv. In a secret memo dated 8 June 1993, South African Military Intelligence laments that “their special relationship with Israel is nearing its end�. However, they were at pains to allay Israeli fears by assuring their counterparts in Tel Aviv that “Israeli military secrets known to the SADF could be kept safe after the transition�. Given our struggles to access military records on this collaboration, the South African military has kept this promise.

This document also provides an interesting window into how apartheid officials wanted to manage the complex transition and the prickly question of how the ANC would react to knowledge of such extensive collaboration. They advised that “it would be wise to inform appropriate leaders in the ANC of the nature of these projects and attempt to get them on board before they made this discovery of their own accord�.

Given what Open Secrets has been able to patch together from the fragments in the archive, it is no surprise that apartheid South Africa and Israel were as thick as thieves. Much of this important archive remains under lock and key. The documents provide a key insight into how two highly militarised states, threatened by international isolation, saw cooperation in both nuclear and conventional weapons as key to their mutual survival. As we have shown in this series, Israel was by no means the only government to collaborate with the apartheid regime – but it was a key military ally of a regime that perpetrated a crime against humanity.


Despite this there are many people who continue to deny this aspect of our shared history. We should remind them of the words of French philosopher and historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, writing about the motivation for denialism of the Holocaust of European Jews and other minorities: “One revives the dead in order the better to strike the living.� We must not erase history. To do so serves to deny the suffering of many ordinary people. Instead we need to sharpen our gaze of the past, understand how it has informed the present and ensure that justice is sought to avoid its repetition.


Open Secrets is an independent non-profit with a mission to promote private sector accountability for economic crime and related human rights violations in Southern Africa. www.opensecrets.org.za

Read more in Apartheid Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit by Hennie van Vuuren published by Jacana Media

Photo: A file photograph showing South African president PW Botha during his last election speech in Johannesburg, on 04 May 1987. Botha led white minority rule of the nation between 1978 and 1989. EPA/STF

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