John Bredenkamp has died.
He is a notorious figure in the world of international clandestine deals. A known smuggler, tobacco and arms trafficker, sanctions-buster and occasional businessman, Bredenkamp made a fortune across various industries despite being at the centre of numerous criminal allegations throughout his career.
The soft glow of nostalgia is already evident on social media posts that recall Bredenkamp’s rugby playing days in Rhodesia and support until recently for his Zimbabwean alma mater Prince Edward School. But the facts are glaringly contrary – Bredenkamp’s fingerprints were to be found over decades on the scene of economic crimes that resulted in human rights violations. This is his legacy.
Bredenkamp is alleged to have assisted numerous pariah states to bust sanctions. Zimbabwean-born, Bredenkamp managed to find favour in the inner circle of both the Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe regimes. He has admitted to having assisted Smith, the prime minister of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1970s, to break international sanctions in order to ensure that the colonial regime remained armed. Despite this history, Bredenkamp was able to form a relationship with Mugabe as the new head of state, which allegedly included the provision of financial and logistical support to Mugabe’s regime. This included a role in the illegal exploitation and plundering of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2003.
The relationship resulted in Bredenkamp being added to the United States sanctions list, a decision which the European Union and Switzerland shortly followed. Bredenkamp’s legal team eventually had his name and companies removed from the European lists, but he remains on the US Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctions list.
In addition to his support of Mugabe, he also allegedly supplied arms to both sides during the Iran-Iraq war. Perhaps most important for present purposes, he also sought to bust sanctions with the South African apartheid government. Declassified South African military documents show that Armscor agents approached Bredenkamp in 1982 in an attempt to procure 20,000 flamethrowers. He agreed to take part and provided fraudulent end-user certificates in order to bypass the arms embargo. Thankfully, the deal fell through when Belgian authorities unknowingly intervened and halted the transport process. Nonetheless, it remains horrifying to imagine the suffering that could have been caused if flamethrowers had found their way into the hands of a regime which did not value black lives and deployed troops readily to townships during this time.
These connections with the South African military establishment mean it is little surprise that Bredenkamp is implicated in the post-apartheid arms deal scandal.