Hosted by New Cross Learning community library, a regular haunt for young and old to entertain radical discussion, Andrew Feinstein displayed his comprehensive research on the global arms industry. The Metropolitan Police were parked up outside, almost as if they had been tipped off about the weight of what we were about to learn. Instead, they kindly provided ambient blue lighting to accompany the block lettering of “The Shadow World” projected on the wall. I found myself sat against a wall of children’s books, apt, as I was definitely the youngest person in the room.
Five minutes earlier I had been introduced to Andrew: he offered me a remarkably firm handshake, and when I informed him I had been following his work for a little while now, he was grateful. Up until this point my perception of him had been fed solely by my following him on Twitter, where he posts regularly . I felt somewhat informed of his involvement in left-leaning, Jewish political discourse. However, the evening offered a much more complete understanding of his investigative work, and the extent of his involvement in the South African parliament.
Serving as an ANC MP from 1994-2001, and dubbed ‘Mr Clean’ by South African media, Feinstein was held in high regard as a budding young politician in South Africa. Heading the public accounts watchdog, Scopa, he was responsible for addressing issues of inappropriate government expenditure, a role that often brought about scrapes with fellow parliamentarians.
Image, CAAT News, Issue 246, October-December 2017
Feinstein began the evening proper with an introductory anecdote, where he detailed his 2001 expulsion from the ANC, a tale that most definitely exceeds a simple ‘scrape’. The year was 1999 and Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, had just overseen a £3.7 billion arms acquisition with the apple of the UK government’s eye, arms manufacturer British Aerospace Engineering (ironically abbreviated, BAE).
Side note: we do still deal with South Africa through BAE today, however discourse tends to focus on the dealings with Saudi Arabia, especially after these sales were judged unlawful by the Court of Appeal in June 2019. (Investors Chronicle)
Inevitably, Mbeki’s deal was subject to investigation from Scopa, where the deal’s necessity, in light of a worsening HIV crisis, was called into question. Feinstein asked: ‘What need did South Africa have for this colossal defensive upgrade?’ This was met with shaking heads from the audience. ‘No need at all.’ He responded.
I was surprised with the resistance that the inquiry was met with, but I don’t know why. It goes without saying that if someone was sniffing around my dodgy contracts and accounts post-arms deal, I’d be livid. Unsurprisingly, non-fictional warmongers bear similar resentment.
For suggesting the deal held a whiff of corruption about it, Minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad summarily launched into a tirade:
I began to envision myself on the receiving end of a Category Five Tuckering from a government minister, perplexed at why I was being called into question for abiding by my job description. I snapped out of it when Feinstein reassured us that he handed in his resignation the day before he was due to be axed.
‘I simply couldn’t have lived with myself had I called an end to that investigation.’
This was the first example of Andrew being burnt by his desire to bring corruption into public knowledge and was far from the last. Since the release of his two books ‘After the Party’ (2004) and ‘The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade’, Feinstein told us a regular slew of writs and threats of legal action are laid at his feet over their content.
It could be argued that the lack thus far of any ascension to the courts should go some way to dispel suggestions that the work deals in conspiracy. Feinstein’s investigative research lends to a well-sourced documentary, where the unbelievable is made believable. His faith in the claims he makes is apparent and he narrates the documentary with a tone of certainty; providing a suitable lifeboat for the wave of anxiety these revelations arouse.
Through his thorough research, Feinstein looks to engage with the pervasion of neoliberalism in the late 20th and early 21st century. It presented the universality of arms profiteering and the development of a Culture of Perpetual War, with a cross-examination of the key global players, from Prince Bandar, through Dick Cheney and Tony Blair, to Margaret Thatcher. I distinctly remember how much I enjoyed Thatcher’s plummy voice fading in for the first time, a tingle sent down my spine — don’t be alarmed, this isn’t some closeted awe for the metal woman, but instead a meridian response to the synchronised hiss of the row behind me.
Venturing deep into the archives, the collation of clips from speeches, state visits, select committees and even propagandist adverts from arms manufacturers painting a damning image of a political reality that left me questioning just how royally I had been hoodwinked. I felt I had been on a historical journey, witnessing the progression of an ideological stance that prioritises profits and is therefore content in supporting this problematic, but valuable, market with warmongering and bribery.
If you would like to read more about Andrew’s work, visit shadowworldinvestigations.org/ where, along with research partner Paul Holden, he looks ‘highlight the legal and political reforms that are needed to halt the corrosive impact of criminal and institutional corruption.’ (SWI, 2019)
Andrew will be hosting a screening of his documentary at SOAS, University of London on January 16th, but if you can’t make it you can watch the documentary on YouTube, here.
And if you would like to learn more about the arms trade and what you can do to join the resistance why not visit the Campaign Against Arms Trade at: www.caat.org.uk/about
Words, Nathan Brown