Thirty years ago, during the 1980s, the world presumed that apartheid in South Africa would end catastrophically in a racial bloodbath and civil war. In violation of the 1977 United Nations arms embargo, Israel supplied much of the technology – including joint testing of a nuclear warhead in the Indian Ocean – whilst South Africa provided uranium and very substantial funding for development of the Israeli armaments industry.

In the words of Alon Liel, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa:

“When Israel finally began to back away from the apartheid regime, the security establishment balked. They said: ‘you’re crazy, it’s suicidal. We would not have military and aviation industries unless we had South Africa as our main client from the mid 1970s. They saved Israel ”’.

Ironically apartheid collapsed relatively peacefully, essentially because reckless military spending on those nuclear weapons and other equipment – instead of defending the system — bankrupted the country. This, in turn, precipitated the international banking sanctions campaign launched in 1985 by church leaders. Access to the New York bank payment systems was critical because of the role of the US dollar in the international monetary system .

Under pressure from American churches, universities, trade unions and other civil society institutions, the first Bush Administration “pulled the plug” and threatened to block all South African access to US financial structures. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, as a nonviolent strategy, is modeled after South Africa’s experience. The outcome was the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, and constitutional negotiations culminating in South Africa’s transition to constitutional democracy in 1994 .

European arms companies and governments then flocked to the country to pay tribute to our new democracy with one hand, and to peddle weapons with the other. Spend US$5 billion on armaments was their pitch, and they would invest US$18 billion to stimulate economic development. Predictably, their promised offset “benefits” never materialized.


The resultant arms deal scandal has proved nothing less than the betrayal of the struggle against apartheid. The corruption it unleashed has prompted South Africa’s investment downgrading in 2017 to “junk status.” One element includes 783 charges against President Jacob Zuma that have still to be prosecuted, whilst another is the collusion of the British, Swedish, German and French governments.

Whether Zuma will politically survive the turmoil until his term expires in 2019 and whether the country can still recover the constitutional and economic expectations of the 1990s are the issues now challenging South Africa.

As South Africans, we see the parallels of apartheid in Israel/Palestine as “petty apartheid” in Israel proper where 93 percent of the land is reserved for Jewish occupation only, and as “grand apartheid” beyond the green line where the Palestine Authority has even less autonomy than had the bantustan governments. Thus, if apartheid in South Africa was unacceptable to the international community, why the hypocrisy about the “two state solution” which is even more unviable?

Terry Crawford-Browne is a former international banker turned peace activist, who helped launch the banking sanctions campaign in 1985 and has subsequently been the main whistleblower on the arms deal scandal.