General Motors change of guard

20 Aug

Khulumani congratulates Daniel F. Akerson who is to become the Chief Executive of General Motors (GM) on 1st September 2010, and will become Chairman of the Board in 2011. The idea is “to have a smooth, seamless transition” according to the present Chief Executive and Chairman, Mr Edward E. Whitacre Jr.

Mr Daniel F. Akerson (Photo: GM)

Khulumani sincerely hopes that Mr Whitacre will not forget, in the seamless transition to inform Mr Akerson of the South African Apartheid Litigation (formerly Khulumani et al vs Barclays et al).

Mr Edward E Whitacre Jr. (Photo - Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg News)

Please do not forget to tell Mr Akerson of the charge that GM must answer to: that of knowingly aiding and abetting the security forces of the apartheid government in oppressing civilian South Africans by providing vehicles such as Bedford trucks for the security forces to use.

Please do not forget to tell Mr Akerson about some of the victims and survivors of gross human rights violations perpetrated by the security forces of the apartheid regime whose lives are now worse off than before.

We are delighted to hear that GM has made a $1.3 billion profit over the last 6 months – and that GM is no longer bankrupt. We therefore respectfully request that you withdraw from the bankruptcy hearing scheduled for 24 September, 2010.

We would also invite you to consider directly contacting Khulumani’s lawyers, Hausfeld LLP, to discuss the case.

Broken laws, broken promises, broken lives

1 Aug

The iniquity of the companies that knowingly aided and abetted the security forces of the illegitimate apartheid regime is that not only did they break international sanctions imposed by the United Nations, but their actions have directly and indirectly resulted in a number of people’s lives being almost irreparably damaged. These companies include IBM, Daimler, General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Rheinmetall. Many others were involved – banks, oil companies, mining companies, arms and ammunitions companies, construction companies. Indeed any local or international corporation that allowed itself to be co-opted in one or other way not only in sustaining and maintaining apartheid’s illegitimate legislation, but also those companies that assisted the security forces to oppress the people of South Africa. Some of this oppression was through following the immoral and illegitimate laws of the land at that time. For example: did Daimler pay its workers in South Africa (through Mercedes Benz SA) the equivalent rate that its workers in Germany received? Or was it the opportunity to exploit cheap labour that made SA so attractive to Daimler (and many other companies)?

Many victims and survivors of the myriad deliberately harming and destructive actions of the corporations are today worse off than before liberation. The promise of a ‘better life for all’ has become a ‘better life for all – except for those who had a better life before, and except for those who are not connected’ . . . to elites in the ruling party. The tragedy is that many of the victims and survivors who have been transformed into elites themselves do not care about their comrades who have seen no justice or whose lives are worse off than before: dispossessed, as Prof Ariel Dorfman says, of their futures.

Victims testified at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under the impression that, because they had voluntarily given up the right to sue their perpetrators in pursuance of the truth of the past, they would be appropriately recompensed for their suffering and losses. Government broke that promise despite the TRC itself recommending that reparations be paid annually to the victims and survivors for six years. This must have partly been to try and ensure that none of the victims and survivors were worse off afterwards than they were during apartheid. A once-off reparations grant of R30,000 was provided by President Thabo Mbeki and his government.

One of the mothers of a disappeared son bought a second hand car with the money and named the car after her son. But the possibility of a son who may have gone on to study or work and to help support his mother in her old age could never be compensated for by the minimum payment made by government, or the purchase of a car.  The worst broken promise — a betrayal of trust — comes from those in positions of power or wealth who have turned their backs on their comrades.

Broken laws require that the perpetrators are found guilty in a court of law and suitably punished. This includes that those guilty of apartheid crimes, and apartheid was a crime against humanity that cannot prescribe or be allowed to prescribe through glib legal arguments.

Broken promises require that the promise-breakers should make amends for their defaulting. This means that our government must come to the table with the victims and survivors and ensure that the resources made available by donors and foreign governments to the President’s Fund eventually reach those people they were meant for. It is a disgrace that the President, the TRC Unit and the officer in charge of the President’s Fund have not yet published the required regulations for distributing the money in this fund to those it was created for, thirteen years after the first donations were made by the Swiss Government and the Kingdom of Denmark! The Swiss Government stipulated that the funds be distributed as mandated by the TRC. The Danish money was to be spent “solely in accordance with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Commitee on Reparation and Rehabilitation”. This has clearly not been done.

Broken lives require that the resources for redress of material, emotional, social and community reparations are provided. It requires that every one of us living in South Africa, but especially the elites and the new elites, do what we can to make sure that the forgotten heroes of the struggle who suffered for justice and freedom in our land are enabled to carry on with their lives not worse off than when they joined the struggle.

As the final whistle blows…Aluta Continua!

12 Jul

On Sunday night (11 July 2010) in a spectacular closing ceremony, and somewhat less spectacular final game, the World Cup drew to a close. The event, which took over South Africa’s every waking moment, showed that despite all the doubts and pessimism that dominated public discourse worldwide about our abilities we made this an unforgettable World Cup.

Unsurprisingly, as the end approached many South Africans were left chewing over the question of what comes after the World Cup, and how we can learn lessons from the last month to take us forward as a nation. Here at the Red Card Campaign headquarters we’re also taking stock of the past month and what it’s meant: while we’ve kept things updated on this blog, the real success of the campaign has been its reach from rural and urban communities across South Africa, to protest marches in Germany, to intense dialogue between different sectors of society. In five weeks we’ve had 4,000 blog hits, 900 ‘listens’ to the Officially Offside album online, exceptional panels, films and exhibitions at the People’s Justice Fan Centre, media coverage ranging from Der Spiegel to the Mail and Guardian to Al Jazeera, not to mention a reparations workshop and a march by the groups from Indwe and the East Rand.

As we contemplate the future for South Africa post-World Cup fever, we’re also exploring the various avenues the Red Card Campaign can take after our intensive launch period. What we will definitely be doing is keeping this blog up-to-date with the latest news about the South Africa apartheid litigation; ongoing struggles for reparations and redress for the Khulumani victims and survivors; and the broader global struggle for justice and corporate accountability. We’ll also be promoting the Officially Offside CD, and holding events around the country to keep the momentum going!

So long World Cup…Aluta Continua Red Card Campaign!

Fair Play – does it all depend on the referees?

11 Jul

The documentary, Fair Play, one in the seven-part series called Have You Heard From Johannesburg?, directed by Connie Field of Clarity Films, Berkeley, California, was screened at the Peoples’ Justice Fan Centre in Jabavu, Soweto on Friday 9 July, 2010 in a focus on Sport, Memory and Apartheid. The film highlights the central role that Dennis Brutus played as an anti-apartheid activist in the sports arena.

As we have seen in the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010, fair play does not necessarily take place — especially when referees and linesmen (and they were all men) make mistakes.

Fair play was not the name of the game during apartheid either. The main referee at that time, the apartheid cabinet and government as a whole, made the rules and applied them through the security forces. But they applied the “rules” unfairly and allowed them to be applied unfairly — including letting multinational corporations such as Daimler, General Motors, Ford, IBM and Rheinmetall do business under apartheid laws. This meant these companies (and many others) would have had segregated toilets; differential pay packages based on skin colour, and “job reservation” — ensuring that only white people were given managerial posts. Unions were banned for much of the time of apartheid for fear of strikes disrupting the economy.

Dennis Brutus in full voice

Dennis Brutus clearly saw the injustice of all this,  made his voice heard, and was targetted by the apartheid regime. He was shot  in the back in 1963 while attempting to escape police custody, and nearly bled to death on the sidewalk while waiting for an ambulance. The ambulances were also segregated and only ambulances reserved for whites were immediately available. He had to wait for a “blacks only” ambulance. Fair play? No.

Brutus’s being shot is the reason he was listed as a plaintiff in the Khulumani Lawsuit. Unfortunately he died in his sleep in December last year and will not see the outcome. His son Tony is representing him.

Even after a democratic government came to power in South Africa, Dennis Brutus recognised that there was still no level playing field for many, if not most, of the people of South Africa. He got stuck in and started to make his voice heard again — this time about different kinds of injustices.

Khulumani Support Group recognises and salutes Dennis Brutus for the role he actively played in attempting to ensure fair play in a democratic South Africa. Winning the South Africa Apartheid Litigation would be a major tribute to him — particularly as it would set a precedent that multinational companies are obliged to “play fair” when working with foreign governments.

Spotlight on Activism Through Film – Clarity Films and Active Voice

9 Jul

As mentioned in a previous post about the activities at the People’s Justice Fan Centre, we recently screened two of the seven-part documentary series Have You Heard from Johannesburg. Just as we have embraced the arts such as Hip Hop – see our Music 4 Justice project and Officially Offside album – so we have been lucky to connect with like-minded organisations and creative people using fim, theatre, arts and music to further the cause of global justice.

One organisation doing just that is Connie Field’s production company Clarity Films who describe their mission as follows: “to encourage a re-examination of our past to better inform social progress in our future and to stimulate thought provoking discussion around issues of major social concern in today’s society.” Clarity Films has worked closely with Active Voice, a multimedia company that tries to bring public policy issues to public attention through putting a human face on the issues. Together these two companies have tried to use the moment of the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail to shine a spotlight onto the global struggle to overcome apartheid – highlighting the many untold stories of how the world united to put an end to the horrific oppression of the former regime. If you would like to get involved in their campaign, or find a way to get hold of the films for your own screenings, check out the campaign website here.

As these films look back at the success of the world uniting against apartheid, we look forward to galvanising similar global solidarity to stand up to the corporate abuses that continue to go unchecked worldwide. 30 years ago global public opinion forced many companies to leave South Africa pushing the apartheid government closer to negotiations. Today we say that giving up making a profit off the lives and abuses of South Africans was the first step in a broader process of reparations and acknowledgement for their involvement.

Farewell Germany…But what about Daimler?

8 Jul

In the semi-final match, and in line with Paul the Octopus’ eerily correct predictions, the on-form German side crashed out of the World Cup against a formidable Spanish team. With one match to go to determine the third and fourth places in the tournament, the German team will be facing Uruguay before packing their bags and leaving the country.

Daimler AG generously sponsored the German team in its quest to win the Soccer World Cup on South African soil, while ignoring calls to acknowledge and pay reparations for its “sponsorship” of apartheid atrocities. As we’ve documented elsewhere on this blog, and assert in the lawsuit against Daimler and others, the South African apartheid security forces could not have carried out the crimes against humanity (of torture, forced disappearances, indiscriminate shooting, arbitrary detention etc.) without access to the products provided by Daimler and others — which they knew would be used in carrying out these crimes. Daimler may currently be paying for the transport and equipment of the German soccer team, but 30 years ago and beyond they were paid to provide transport for armed security forces in terrorising ‘non-white’ people across South Africa.

During the World Cup Daimler benefited from a contract to provide luxury buses for transporting teams and tourists.

As South Africa begins its dialogue about and evaluation of the legacy of the World Cup, maybe we should be asking Daimler whether it’s going to ignore its horrific apartheid-assisting legacy by jumping on a plane and leaving with the German team. Or will it face its past and commit to a legacy that compensates apartheid victims and survivors such as those represented by Khulumani? Will it build up those South African lives its vehicles were used to damage? And will it withdraw its threats to pull out of its manufacturing plants in the Eastern Cape?

Can the blood-stained “star of apartheid” begin to be cleansed and Daimler’s  reputation revived? Not without facing up to repairing the damage they helped create.

The Global Struggle for Post-Apartheid Justice in Context

7 Jul

A lot of the events being held at the People’s Justice Fan Centre are aimed at putting the Khulumani Apartheid litigation into the context of post-Apartheid South Africa, global struggles for corporate accountability and the importance of reparations for survivors of gross human rights violations. This week we’ve used films and panels to explore the broader context of sport and global involvement in the movement against apartheid.

Today, we screened the excellent film Have You Heard from Johannesburg: The Bottom Line at the People’s Justice Fan Centre. This film is part of a seven-film series of documentaries about key issues in the anti-apartheid struggle. The films were directed by Connie Field and produced by her production company Clarity Films. The Bottom Line takes an in-depth look into the efficacy of economic sanctions, and as the TimeOut London says: “offers a clear and rousing study of how economic sanctions, initated by grassroots protests, can have a significant political effect – especially when the boards of corporations find themselves in a forced position of embarrassment.” The Have You Heard from Johannesburg series more broadly tries to capture what Prof. Rob Nixon described as follows: “No other post-WW II struggle for decolonization has been so fully globalized; no other has magnetized so many people across such various national divides, or imbued them with such a resilient sense of common cause as did the struggle for democracy in South Africa.” Following the screening Khulumani community organiser Reginald Mafu and national director Marje Jobson went to the Apartheid Museum where they were involved in an interview with Al-Jazeera News Network that went out live across the world. Some pre-recorded interviews with Khulumani victims have also been made available.

Staying with the global themes raised in the film screened today, the Peoples Justice Fan Centre in Jabavu, Soweto, has a stellar line-up for Friday. The day starts at 09:30am with the screening of another part of the Have You Heard From Johannesburg series: Fair Play, which focusses on the role of sport and specifically the sport boycotts in the struggle against apartheid. The screening will be followed by a roundtable discussion which will include contributions from Smiley Moosa (a football player who had to hide his race to play); Nkosi Molala (a Pretoria Callies footballer and Black Consciousness activist who was imprisoned on Robben Island and lost an eye during an altercation with apartheid police); John Soske (an academic studying the contribution of Dr. Abu Asvat to non-racial sport); Teery Jeevanantham (a former football player and active writer on football issues); Haroun Mohammed (football player who was expelled from the Teachers’ Training College for his political activities); and Ms. Tapuwa Moore (a gender activist and coach for the Forum for the Empowerment of Women football team).

The panel’s focus will be “Football, Sport, Memory and Apartheid” and will be moderated by Desiree Ellis (former Banyana Banyana – South African national women’s football team) and Hassen Lorgat.

These films and panel reinforce the importance of global movement for justice, something we at the Red Card Campaign hope to further by creating a global movement for justice and corporate accountability.

People’s Justice Fan Centre

Friday, 09 July

Film Screening @ 9:30am

Roundtable discussion @ 10:15am


Ms Desiree Ellis and Mr Hassen Lorgat will moderate the forum. (Desiree Ellis is a former Banyana Banyana player.)


Nigerian Oil Spill Accountability Success

7 Jul

Here’s an update from a corporate accountability success-story in Nigeria where a court just found in favour of plaintiffs – the Ejama-Ebubu community in Tai Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State – and against Shell Oil for an oil spill that occurred in 1970.

The full story can be found here.

We salute this victory for communities fighting to protect themselves, and their environment in the Niger Delta, and call for all oil companies to implement the most stringent and safe procedures at all times – even where doing so may harm their profits. As we have seen in the ongoing saga of the BP spill, when full measures aren’t taken because costs need to be cut, the ultimate cost is borne by plants, animals and local communities.

Introducing Michael Hausfeld – Litigator and Human Rights Defender

5 Jul

The Khulumani Red Card Campaign has two major components: advocacy and campaigning in South Africa and across the world (as carried out on this blog, for example); and the actual legal battles in the New York courtroom. While we head things up here, we thought it would be a good idea to introduce you to our ‘man on the ground’ in New York, the exceptional lawyer Michael Hausfeld, and his firm Hausfeld LLP.

Hausfeld has a long history of work in the field of human rights – on a domestic US-level as well as internationally. He tried the first case that established the principle that sexual harassment was a form of discrimination prohibited under the US Title VII laws. In 1989 he represented the Native Alaskans who were horrifically affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, where he negotiated a $176-million settlement from Texaco Inc. He later successfully represented a class of Holocaust victims whose assets were retained by private Swiss banks during and after WWII; and separately represented the Republics of Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation on issues of slave and forced labour for both Jewish and non-Jewish victims of Nazi persecution.

His firm, Hausfeld LLP, describes its work as follows: “Hausfeld LLP is a global claimants firm founded on a very simple yet largely unmet premise: global wrongs must be accountable to global rights. With unique global resources, unlimited creativity and steadfast integrity, we seek to achieve unprecedented results on behalf of citizens and corporations involved in large and complex disputes that touch every corner of the globe and impact every industry and population.”

Hausfeld and his incredible international team have been an excellent example of a legal team that are dedicated to standing for justice, accountability and most importantly making a tangible positive difference to the lives of the people on whose behalf they work. As Hausfeld writes:

“The U.S. law under which the [Khulumani] case is proceeding—the Alien Tort Claims Act—provides a place for foreign nationals to bring cases against U.S. citizens or other foreign nationals for violations of customary international law, including gross human rights abuses.

The Defendants in the case…have opposed being held to account for their conduct in the U.S. court. When, however, they were given the opportunity in South Africa to tell the truth about their participation in Apartheid and their relationship with its enforcement through terrorist type behavior, they failed to do so. Now they do not want to be held accountable in a court of law in a country in which most of them are citizens or in which they routinely do business. What they are really saying is that they should not be responsible to anyone, for anything, at anytime, anywhere.

Human rights abusers should not dictate where, when, and to whom they are accountable.  They cannot silence their victims or camouflage their misconduct by disappearing, shutting down or foreclosing all legitimate avenues of inquiry. Those who have been wronged have rights.  Those who have done wrong have responsibilities.”

DRC — a human rights morass

2 Jul

30 June 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). An all-day seminar organised by  Congo for Peace was held at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Great Hall. Khulumani Support Group was invited as a representative of victims and survivors of the apartheid government-multinational corporates collusion.

The seminar was attended by some 500 members of the Congolese Diaspora including Congolese students studying at nine South African universities, human rights defenders from the DRC, and the Ambassadors of the DRC and of Belgium.

The struggle of the Congo for independence from a particularly brutal period of colonisation by Belgium was reviewed. During this time more than 10 million Congolese people were killed due to a combination of famine, forced labour and systematic violence. This must surely count as a holocaust — but it has not generally received recognition as such, compared to other holocausts.

The day commenced with a commemoration of the role played by Patrice Lumumba as president of the Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) in the negotiations, and his subsequent election as the state’s first President. Lumumba survived only six months in office before being ‘eliminated’ by a firing squad organised by Belgian officers on January 17, 1961. An arms company surely knowingly aided and abetted this assassination.

Patrice Lumumba

Lumumba’s thwarted dream of a peaceful nation in which the needs of the people would be prioritised, was remembered. The seemingly unending conflicts driven by ambition for control of the DRC’s extraordinary mineral wealth undermined this hope and ideal.

The invasion of the country by the armies of Uganda and Rwanda in 1997 to overthrow the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and the subsequent invasion the following year to overthrow Laurent Kabila were seemingly motivated by this desire to access the DRC’s resources. The DRC’s neighbours, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent their armies in to defend Kabila. By the time all these armed forces had withdrawn in late 2002, the country was left in shambles, corruption was rife and the illicit trade in conflict minerals was thriving.

Armed rebel groups, supported primarily by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, exploited this chaotic situation. Another approximately 5,4 million people are said to have been killed. The lucrative illicit trade in ‘blood minerals’ includes coltan (columbite-tantalite) used in cell phone technology, diamonds, gold, cassiterite and wolframite. The minerals continue to haemorrhage out of the country — eventually reaching the pockets of multinationals mainly in the UK, the USA and possibly South Africa as well.

While rebel groups exploit the illicit trade in the eastern DRC, multinational corporations are apparently colluding with Congolese political elites to profit from extensive copper, uranium and other minerals’ mining operations in areas such as Katanga Province. Multinationals have even established and equipped their own private armies to provide security for their operations and these paramilitary groups have been involved in perpetuating the violence in the country.

The multinational companies are accused by the people of knowingly committing human rights violations with the support of political elites. Could they one day face similar litigation as the South African apartheid litigation (Khulumani international lawsuit)? Will the global movement for justice and corporate accountability facilitated by changes in international human rights law become strong enough to challenge these essentially criminal activities?

The people of the DRC are increasing their civic presence inside and outside the country. They are demanding that democratic institutions become increasingly responsive to the citizenship’s needs. They are also demanding a military and police force that provides real protection to the people.

The experiences and support of Khulumani, which is taking the struggle for justice for victims forward in the law courts of New York City will hopefully set precedents for multinational corporates’ accountability and liability — for knowingly aiding and abetting gross human rights violations.

Khulumani alongside Congolese civil society is outraged by the murder of respected human rights defender, Mr Floribert Chebeya Bahizire on June 2, 2010. Mr Bahizire was apparently invited to a meeting with the Chief of Police. Some hours later his body was found in his car with the body of his dead driver at another site. Mr Bahizire was director of Voice of the Voiceless, an organisation similar to Khulumani.

Victims everywhere draw strength from the memories of those who have given their lives for a vision of a society that benefits all. We commit to struggling in solidarity to end the impunity of individuals and companies that have violated international human rights norms, and to secure reparations for the damage and destruction they have caused.

This is surely a situation where an initiative of strategic importance requires urgent action involving the international community, local governments and civil society including human rights organisations. A large scale resumption of armed conflict in the African Great Lakes region threatens the stability of the entire sub-region.

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