NEWS
03/02/2018 15:34 SAST | Updated 03/02/2018 15:58 SAST

Apartheid Crimes: TRC Was 'Insufficient', Corporations Got Off Scot-Free, Says Witness

Multinationals need to be held accountable for "aiding and abetting" the apartheid regime, says a civil society representative at the People's Tribunal.

Marc Davies

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) failed to investigate devastating apartheid-era economic crimes, and some of its recommendations should be revisited, said a witness on the first day of the People's Tribunal on Saturday.

Human rights lawyer Charles Abrahams told evidence leaders and a panel chaired by Justice Zac Yacoob that, while the TRC made visible many apartheid atrocities, its focus on civil and political violations without due regard for the crimes of economic actors such as multinational corporations meant its work was incomplete.

READ: What is the People's Tribunal?

Government at the time felt its rationale after apartheid was to have the TRC, which it subsequently said had "definitively dealt with the position of liability [of crimes]," he said. The TRC brought forth individual perpetrators who — in exchange for truth — would receive amnesty, but this didn't properly extend to corporate entities, he said.

Abrahams also bemoaned the first democratic government's repayments of massive financial liabilities accrued by the preceding "despotic regime". Apartheid debt, he claimed, referencing a 1993 figure, amounted to approximately $80-billion (R967-billion), $45-billion (R544-billion) of which was public debt.

"The transition that took place was more than just a government succession, it was a completely new regime that took over: not just one government to the next," he said.

Abrahams said the post-apartheid government did not resist repayment of apartheid debts on the basis that it did not want to "alienate capital markets", and instead wished to assert itself as being in control of the economy.

The broader implications, he said, were that government footed a massive bill for the crimes of a preceding regime, while multinationals involved in securing funding for — and profiting from — apartheid got off scot-free.

'No peace without justice'

Victims or survivors of the activities of multinational corporations who "aided and abetted" the apartheid regime "have not yet received a stake in this nation," said Dr Marjorie Jobson of the Khulumani Support Group in a preceding presentation.

Making reference to a U.S. lawsuit in 2007 in which Khulumani sued dozens of major multinationals under the U.S.'s Alien Tort Statute, Jobson argued numerous companies whose conduct was "integrally connected to the abuses of apartheid" effectively got off scot-free.

Some of the companies she listed in her presentation as — in one way or another — either actively enabling or complicit in apartheid crimes included ExxonMobil, Shell Oil Company, ChevronTexaco Corporation, British Petroleum (BP), Sasol, Fluor Corporation, Rheinmetall Group, Total-Fina-Elf, Oerlikon-Bührle, Barclays Bank, Citigroup Inc., Credit Suisse Group, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank AG, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ford, General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, IBM and others.

These companies to various extents, she argued, were "instrumental in encouraging and furthering the abuses of apartheid".

'Come forward'

Yacoob earlier stressed the tribunal was "not a court of law nor [were the panelists] judges with binding powers". Rather, its primary objective, he said, was to bring truth to the fore about apartheid crimes and justice denied.

He encouraged the media to publish far and wide the names of entities accused of wrongdoing in hopes they would come forward and respond to the allegations.

Evidence leaders, responding to Yacoob's query about the issue of notice for companies accused, said all people and companies implicated would be given an opportunity to respond. Given that the tribunal was organised by civil society groups and has no legal powers, evidence leaders said the presentation of evidence could go ahead.

'Joining the dots'

The People's Tribunal will hear evidence until Wednesday and the evidence is led before a six-member panel chaired by Yacoob. Other panel members are Navi Pillary, Dinga Sikwebu, Yasmin Sooka, Allyson Maynard Gibson and Mandisa Dyantyi.

Co-organisers of the event Right2Know told HuffPost SA the tribunal would contribute to furthering social justice in the country by "demonstrating to all those implicated that as a people we have not turned a blind eye to vast corruption [past and present]".

Rather than counterposing current 'state capture' and corruption with apartheid-era and Arms Deal-type alleged crimes, the tribunal would attempt to 'join the dots' between different periods of corruption and demonstrate continuity in the story of 'capture' in South Africa, organisers said.

The tribunal, in so doing, would "connect apartheid crimes, the Arms Deal and state capture in one single conversation," said Right2Know's Mluleki Marongo.

"The goal is not only to ensure law enforcement agencies act [in the service of justice], but also to educate the public about the impact and nature of corruption, and mobilise [around its eradication]," he said.

The hearings continue.