The Story Behind the Gripping New Documentary ‘Shadow World’ (1/5)
In part one, Andrew Feinstein discusses being witness to a corrupt weapons deal in post-apartheid South Africa sparked his quest to uncover the world of war profiteers and weapons contractors
JAISAL NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. We have a really exciting program for you and, again, we are live on Facebook, so send us your questions and comments. Let us know if this is coming through loud and clear.
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And now to our segment. We’re going to be talking about what’s being called “The War Documentary the US Government Doesn’t Want You To See.” Here’s a clip:
MAN: I’ve got nothing against money. I don’t mind paying bribes to politicians. The thing about politicians is that they’re very much like prostitutes, but only more expensive.
MAN: The heads of government are the sales people in chief of their country’s large arms contractors.
MAN: For the last 50 years, at least, policy has been made based on the assumption of greed. And it’s ruined the world.
WOMAN: This very phrase “War on Terror,” it’s nonsense. It’s like saying the war on war.
JAISAL NOOR: So that’s an excerpt from the trailer of Shadow World. Directed by Johan Grimonprez and based on Andrew Feinstein’s book by the same name. It explores the world’s largest and most corrupt arms deal through those involved in perpetrating and investigating them. Well, we’re now joined by Andrew Feinstein. Thanks so much for joining us.
ANDREW FEINSTEIN: Not at all. Good to be with you.
JAISAL NOOR: So you’re the Executive Director of Corruption Watch UK. And you served the ANC under Nelson Mandela and his predecessor Thabo Mbeki. And you quit in protest over what you said were corrupt arms deals. A portion of the film addresses what happened. Here’s another clip from the trailer:
ANDREW FEINSTEIN: …South Africa to lobby the BAE, the British weapons manufacturer, won the biggest contract — $10 billion — with scarce public resources on this weaponry that we didn’t need. And this is the template around the world.
MAN: BAE had channeled international covert payments all over the world to the local politicians.
WOMAN: Seems to be a very expensive way of organizing a bribe payment. May as well cut out the military equipment and just hand out the money.
JAISAL NOOR: So talk about what we just saw, this clip about the defense contractor, BAE, and how this led to you resigning and ending up with the book, which is now turned into a film. You can watch it online.
ANDREW FEINSTEIN: As you mentioned, I was and ANC member of Parliament in South Africa. And I ran the main Financial Oversight Committee in Parliament. And we received a report from our Ordinance General, much like an Inspector General in the US. And in the report he basically said there was prima facie evidence of significant corruption in an arms deal that South Africa did worth about $10 billion. This, remember, is a country that’s just had its first democratic election, faces no enemies that anybody was aware of, and is spending $10 billion on weapons. And the real reason for that expenditure was that $300 million of bribes were paid.
So I tried to investigate that deal — as a Member of Parliament — and my own party basically said to me, “We’re not going to investigate this thing publicly in Parliament. We’ll investigate it privately in the party,” which effectively meant we were going to do nothing about it.
So I continued to investigate and eventually the presidency called me in — this was under Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela’s successor — and they gave me the choice of continuing my political career or being kicked out of Parliament if I wanted to try and continue this investigation.
So I was faced with this choice, which was very difficult because I’d been involved with the ANC for a long time, it was clearly, you know, the primary liberation movement that overcame Apartheid in South Africa that led to our democracy. But I took the decision that it was actually important to create a precedent in our young democracy, that principled and honest and accountable and transparent government was more important than any one individual’s career.
So just before they were about to kick me out of Parliament, which they can do very easily in South Africa, I resigned. And I continued to investigate and to write about that particular deal. So I wrote a book called After the Party about that deal, its impact on South African and on the ANC. Because it really, it corrupted our democracy from the inside. And, you know, today we have a President in South Africa, Jacob Zuma, who faced 783 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering in relation to that deal. And the charges were very conveniently and controversially dropped just before he was elected President.
So this was a point at which the ANC lost its moral compass and which some incredibly brave and courageous liberation leaders were prepared to undermine the very institutions of democracy that they had fought so courageously to bring about, in order to protect themselves and the party from this corruption actually becoming public. So I wrote my first book about that. And because so little is written globally about the global arms trade and its impact on democracy and the rule of law, a lot of people started approaching me from all over the world — including the US whistle-blowers and people from within companies and militaries, prosecutors. And it was on that basis that I started developing The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade which was really the first book besides one textbook that had been written that had been published on the global arms trade since 1979. So an area that’s not written about a great deal that really remains in the shadows.
And I was really interested in exposing the systemic nature — the political and economic nature — of this trade and why it operates in the way that it does, contributing 40% of all corruption in worldwide trade, very close relations between business, governments, the militaries, intelligence agencies — and really resulting in absurd socioeconomic decision-making.
So, in South Africa, at the time we were spending this $10 billion, our then-President Thabo Mbeki said we didn’t have the financial resources to provide anti-retroviral medication to the almost six million South Africans living with HIV or AIDS at that time. Harvard calculated conservatively that that led to the avoidable deaths of about 365,000 South Africans. And this sort of nonsense continues. You know, today the United States taxpayers paying a trillion and a half dollars for this ridiculous jet fighter, the F-35. So the cycle just continues.