Unlike another arms deal luminary, Schabir Shaik, who also lives in Durban, the extraordinary progress of Dr Diliza Mji from local ANC stalwart to international businessman has gone largely unnoticed.
While the quiet medical doctor shuns the limelight, he does manage to keep popping up in interesting – and profitable – places that have little to do with health. And, as you might expect, with those talents he’s come to wield considerable influence in the arms business.
Attempts by noseweek to track down the good doctor over a period of some time for an interview have failed. But he’s left in his wake a trail of dealings that suggest he is a shrewd and canny operator whose impeccable political connections cannot but be useful.
Dr Mji was born into a political, Kwazulu-Natal family. His father, Dr Diliza Mji senior, and former President Nelson Mandela were among the founding members of the ANC Youth League. Although never jailed for long periods like many of his associates - perhaps because, unlike most of them, Dr Mji snr was always markedly anti-communist in his views - he is still regarded as one of the “fathers” of the party. According to insiders, Diliza junior is very much a “chip off the old block”. While his contacts and political connections are impeccable, he is not a career politician or an ambitious civil servant and, like his dad, prefers moving behind the scenes.
noseweek was told that Dr Mji junior inherited the family medical practice in the poverty-stricken area of Clermont, near Durban. Finding the surgery is difficult - most of the street signs have been stolen for scrap and people in the area don’t seem to know much about their neighbourhood doctor. An oldtimer outside “The Zulu Pot” take-away remembers Dr Mji senior as a tireless ANC activist. Young Diliza, he claims, has always been more interested in getting ahead with his own life rather than fighting for the people. Young Diliza, says the old man, is hardly ever seen in the area any more.
So where does he hang out? Diliza junior has moved up, and now lives in Cowies Hill, an exclusive suburb of Pinetown. He’s married and apparently enjoys gardening - when business allows. His colleagues in the ANC are reluctant to discuss him, but a comrade described him thus: “A real gentleman and a patriot, but not a firebrand revolutionary. He likes the good things in life and he likes his whisky and he isn’t going to give those things up easily. He is at heart a better businessman than a politician. Most youngsters today want to be businessmen. Nobody wants to suffer for nothing any more.”
When the new era dawned, Mji junior was fairly well known amongst the party faithful in Durban and to a lesser extent in the province of Kwazulu-Natal, having served, quietly, in numerous positions in the ANC’s provincial hierarchy. For two years he was treasurer of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. (But ANC insiders are anxious to point out that he is “definitely not a friend of the Shaik family” – once equally well-known as party fundraisers in the province.) Mji Junior is also said to be reluctant to talk about his powerful family connections; cultivating rather the image of a self-made man.
He is obviously highly regarded by decision-makers in government. When Mji was appointed to head the IDC (and a member of the boards of Armscor and, later, Telkom) he was there as the government’s nominee - even though he was not actually a civil servant. Clearly he has the trust of the inner circle.
Dr Mji also appears to have mastered the controversial art of the revolving door. He has the former minister of defence Joe Modise to thank for his first break in the arms trade. Modise appointed him to the board of Armscor in 1995. Those were heady times: the government and its agencies were putting together specs for the now notorious arms procurement programme and attracting the interest of many aggressive international arms companies including British Aerospace. On the Armscor board, Mji played a key role in decisions that saw BAe awarded contracts in the multi-billion rand arms package for Hawk and Gripen fighter jets. (See nose50 for more details of how we bought the Gripens and Hawks we didn’t need and that nobody else seems to want!) Wholly-owned British Aerospace subsidiary Advanced Technologies and Engineering (ATE) will also be supplying avionics for the Hawks once they are delivered.
BAe clearly noted Mji’s role with appreciation. Mji was listed as a director of BAe Systems SA in June 1997 - the same month he quit Armscor. Mere weeks later he appeared as deputy chair of ATE. (He has since resigned from BAe, but remains on the board of ATE.) Dr Mji is on record as saying he had no dealings with BAe while on the board of Armscor. What an extraordinary coincidence his new appointment must have been!
His links to BAe firmly cemented after three years as a director, Mji then linked up with the president’s brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, to run a company called DGD Technologies. (See tank story in this issue).
Mji has trod a careful path from parastatals to private companies, harnessing his political contacts to land himself contracts as he went, seemingly unnoticed by the South African public or its watchdogs. We find him again on the board of Dynamic Cables (See
: “Modise was bought”), quietly overseeing yet another business venture involving taxpayers’ – and trade union - money. n
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