In the 12 months before he was ousted, Central African Republic President Francis Bozizé was desperately trying to obtain delivery of weapons and ammunition donated by South Africa in 2007.
The donations flowed from the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on defence co-operation signed by former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration and Bozizé in February 2007.
As the Mail & Guardian reported last week, former Umkhonto weSizwe heavyweight Joshua Nxumalo inserted his company, Serengeti Defence Technologies, as part of the joint venture that would revamp decommissioned vehicles, including Ratel armoured cars that the South Africa National Defence Force had offered to donate to Bozizé.
At the time, Nxumalo’s other company, Serengeti Group Holdings, was 15% owned by the ANC-linked Chancellor House Trust and the Serengeti Group was also involved in a CAR company, Inala, which aimed to take control of the chaotic diamond trade in the mineral-rich Central African state.
Inala was set up by Didier Pereira, a special advisor to Bozizé, but Serengeti’s involvement appears to have come to an end by 2008.
Pereira joined the board of Serengeti Group on October 13 2006, the same day as Chancellor House trustee Nicholas Wolpe, who resigned in 2009.
Chancellor House would not comment, saying the only person authorised to do so was abroad.
Neither Nxumalo nor Pereira responded to calls, but the ANC has vehemently denied it has any interests in the CAR.
The South African government’s military donation comprised about 90 surplus stock vehicles (mainly Ratels and Samil trucks) plus 90mm ammunition and spare parts worth a total of about R26-million.
It was approved in August 2007 by Mosiuoa (Terror) Lekota, who was the minister of defence at the time, but the donation ran into trouble when money for the refurbishment, due from CAR, was not forthcoming.
However, the M&G has learned that the deal was resuscitated in 2010, when Pereira was appointed as Bozizé’s official envoy on Operation Vimbizela, the South African National Defence Force project in the CAR.
Pereira engaged a new company, OTT Technology, in a barter agreement to refurbish some of the donated vehicles in exchange for keeping others.
OTT specialises in refurbishing military vehicles as well as producing its own Puma mine-protected vehicle.
Managing director Machiel Booysen could not be reached for comment, but it is understood that Bozizé viewed the delivery as particularly urgent.
It appears that at least two Ratels may have been delivered, though a source close to OTT, who asked not to be named, said other vehicles were delivered by OTT for airlift to CAR but had to be reclaimed because the money to pay for the heavy cargo flights did not materialise.
Said another source, who declined to be identified: “For the past few months, Bozizé has been pressuring Pereira to send all the donation material.”
The source claimed the CAR defence ministry had provided funds to ship the vehicles, but it seemed that delivery was blocked.
It appears that Bozizé was particularly desperate for 90mm ammunition for the Ratels he already had.
General Johann Hougaard, the former chief of joint operations for the defence force and the first commander of Operation Vimbezela, told the M&G Bozizé had made repeated calls for the equipment to be released. He said Pereira had tried to facilitate this “but for some reason, it didn’t happen”.
According to the authoritative journal Intelligence Online, in October 2012 Pereira played an important role in brokering direct access for then-CAR defence minister and the president’s son, Francis Bozizé to see President Jacob Zuma in a bid to “unlock a sensitive weapons delivery issue”.
Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj failed to answer questions about how frequently the president had met Pereira and Nxumalo in the past nine months.
It also appears that Zuma’s extension of the MOU for Operation Vimbezela in December last year flowed from that October meeting.
It was this defence agreement that Zuma cited as the basis for his decision to deploy combat troops to CAR in January this year in addition to the small training contingent that had long been there.
Hougaard, who now runs a security company, Elite SA, got to know Bozizé well during his deployment in the CAR and served as Bozizé’s military adviser after his retirement from the defence force.
Hougaard was insistent that private South African interests played no role in Zuma’s decision to deploy troops. “In December, the people planning this thing called me to ask about whether there were any significant [South African] players [there] and I said no.”
Hougaard said he believed the South Africans had been led into a trap by the leaders of Chad and Congo-Brazzaville — traditionally seen as French client states — who he believed never had any intention of honouring the Libreville power-sharing accord reached between the rebels and Bozizé in January.
On Wednesday, Radio France International reported that strong rumours were circulating in Bangui about South African commercial interests in the CAR.
The state-funded station claimed that three names had surfaced repeatedly. One is described as “Ellis SA, headed by a retired South African general and … interested in diamonds and gold in the south”.
This is clearly EliteSA. Hougaard told the M&G: “I don’t have any business interests there, though I did consider it.”
The station claimed there were also concerns about “Soco”, which had been on the point of carrying out oil exploration in northern CAR.
Soco International is an oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in London that also works in Angola, in the Republic of Congo and in South East Asia.
It does not appear to have any discernible South African links.
Finally, it reported that there was great suspicion among the new rebel leadership about Dig Oil, the South African company that had signed contracts for exploration and exploitation of oil in South Western CAR.
The report quoted a Bangui businessman as saying Dig Oil was an ANC funding vehicle. Dig Oil is led by Andrea Brown, who vehemently denied the claims.
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