The Arms Deal and the Seriti Commission

This page serves as an information portal on the 1999 arms deal and the Seriti Commission charged with investigating the allegations of corruption in the deal.


Quick links:

JSC ComplaintReferral of Complaint to the Judical Conduct CommitteeJudgement: Seriti and another v JSC and othersHigh Court Application- Constitutionality of JSC ActFact SheetsMedia Coverage and Press StatementsGauteng High Court Judgement

The Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages (SDPP) otherwise known as the Seriti Commission was tasked with investigating whether there were any irregularities or corruption in the award of the Arms Deal contracts. Moreover, the commission was tasked with assessing whether the Deal was rational and whether the economic benefits that were due to flow from the deal materialised.

Chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, the Commission was criticised for lack of impartiality,  failing to hold those accused of corruption accountable by ignoring key evidence, failing to subpoena those accused like Jacob Zuma and not giving witnesses access to documents. In response three ‘critic witnesses, Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden (Shadow World Investigations) and Open Secrets’ director, Hennie Van Vuuren, announced that they were withdrawing all participation from the Commission in protest of the way it was conducting itself.

The Seriti Commission’s final report was full of inaccuracies, contradictions and logical inconsistencies. Consequently, civil society groups R2K & Corruption Watch also viewed the Commission’s final findings as a whitewash and in October 2016, filed an application at the North Gauteng High Court to set aside the findings of the Commission.

In 2019, Corruption Watch and R2K received notice, that all opposition to the application by the Presidency and government departments was being withdrawn. This means that CW and R2K’s application would not be challenged and that it would, as a matter of course, be granted a default judgment which was delivered on 19 August 2019. Despite the application being unopposed, Judges Seriti and Musi applied for the judgment to be set aside on appeal. The application for leave to appeal was dismissed by the High Court and the subsequent application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court Appeal was also dismissed.

Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations have since laid a complaint with the Chief Justice as the Chair of the Judicial Conduct Committee (JSC). The complaint asks the Chief Justice to refer Judge Willie Seriti and Judge Hendrick Musi to the JSC’s disciplinary processes because of their failure to investigate the Arms Deal during the life of the Seriti Commission. The complaint also asks the JSC to consider whether certain actions by Judges Seriti and Musi may constitute criminal misconduct and, if so, to refer these matters to the NPA for further action.

In June 2021, Judges Seriti and Musi brought an application in order to declare the definition of Judge as contained in the Judicial Services Commission Act, 1994 (“JSC Act”) unconstitutional insofar as it allows retired judges to be held accountable for their conduct while in active service. Judges Seriti and Musi now seek to avoid accountability for their actions during the Commission.

The application was heard on 14 March 2023 in the South Gauteng High Court at Johannesburg where arguments were made by all the parties (Judges Seriti and Musi, Open Secrets and SWI and the JSC). The Court handed down a judgment on 14 April 2023 where it dismissed the application. The Court held that it is not unconstitutional for the definition of judge in the JSC Act to include judges discharged from active service.  The Court also dismissed the argument by Judges Seriti and Musi that costs should not be awarded against them should the application fail because they made the application “in the public interest”. The Court unequivocally identified that the judges were acting for their own interest so as to avoid “blemishes” to their reputation.

The judgment and the conclusion of the proceedings now allows Open Secrets and SWI to resume the process it instituted within JSC and ultimately bring Judges Seriti and Musi to account before their peers.

a timeline of delayed justice for the arms deal


14 March 2023- Hearing

Hearing of application brought by Judges Seriti and Musi.

Court File


30 June 2021

Application brought by Judges Seriti and Musi to challenge the definition of Judge as contained in the Judicial Services Commission Act, 1994.

Seriti J and Another v JSC and Others (Founding Papers)


7 May 2021

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo (as acting chair of the Judicial Conduct Committee) affirmed the seriousness of Open Secrets’ and SWI’s complaint to the Judicial Service Commission.  His letters confirmed that the matter has now been referred to the Judicial Conduct Committee.

Read the letters


21 August 2019

After lengthy delays caused by the State’s failure to provide evidence timeously, the High Court ruled that the Seriti Commission’s final report should be set aside. The High Court ruled that the Commission had failed to conduct a full, fair and meaningful investigation into the Arms Deal.

Gauteng High Court Judgement


11-12 June 2019

Corruption Watch and Right2Know approach North Gauteng High Court to file their application to review and set aside the findings of the commission of inquiry into the Arms Deal

Read the Seriti Commission Review Timeline

14 April 2019

President Cyril Ramaphosa announces that he will not oppose Corruption Watch and Right2Know’s application.

20 September 2018

The final report of the People’s Tribunal on Economic Crime is released. The report states there is sufficient evidence that cabinet ministers were involved in suspicious operations throughout the Arms Deal.


17 October 2016

Corruption Watch and the Right2Know Campaign announce their application to the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to review and set aside the findings of the Seriti Commission on the grounds that it failed to properly investigate the Arms Deal, and therefore failed in its mandate.

30 December 2015

The final report of the Seriti Commission is handed to President Zuma, more than four years after the Commission was appointed.

29 June 2015

The final public sitting of the Commission takes place.


29 September 2014

More than 30 South African social justice organisations issue a call for the Seriti Commission to be scrapped due to its continued unwillingness to call witnesses and consider vital evidence. The organisations call for a full criminal investigation into corruption in the arms deal to be launched.


28 August 2014

Three independent witnesses – campaigners and researchers Andrew Feinstein, Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren – withdraw from the Commission in protest, and call for the Commission to be dissolved entirely and for those implicated in corruption to be prosecuted. Feinstein was a former ANC MP.

22 July 2014

Two evidence leaders, Advocates Barry Skinner and Carol Sibiya, resign from the Commission.

12 April 2014

The Commission announces that Advocate Tayob Aboobaker, the chief evidence leader at the Commission, had resigned two months previously.

27 October 2013

The contracts of eight lawyers employed by the Commission – two senior researchers, an assistant legal researcher, four legal practitioners and the head of legal research – are not renewed, ending their employment with the Commission.


5 August 2013

The public hearings phase of the Commission begins.


March 2013

Attorney Kate Painting, who had been working with the Commission as a researcher since its start, resigns. In her statement, published in August 2013, Painting explained that she had left the Commission due to concerns about its approach and credibility. Painting claimed that, soon after beginning work with the Commission, “another agenda soon emerged as did an obsessive control of information, family relationships and incompetent administration. Fear is a common theme at the Commission and any non-compliance with the second agenda is met with hostility.”


16 January 2013

Numerous ‘critics’ of the Arms Deal are subpoenaed by the Commission to give evidence, including Paul Holden, Andrew Feinstein and Hennie van Vuuren. Annexure ‘A’ to the summons informed Holden, Feinstein and van Vuuren that they were entitled to ‘inspect any documents that the Commission has which may be relevant to your testimony… should any further documentation become available, you will be given a reasonable time within which to inspect them.’ Despite submitting a list of required classes of documents in February 2013, the documents still have not been provided by the Commission to these witnesses.

24 October 2011

The President announces a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the Strategic Defence Procurement Packages.

fact sheets

in the media