Tag Archives: Corporate Accountability

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.

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.

The Two Faces of General Motors: Forever Bankrupt or Thriving?

30 Jun

Today, news organisations around the world have picked up General Motors’ big announcement that it is set to overcome its bankruptcy and public bailout, and to thrive as a company moving forward. As Reuters reports:

“Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said…’When you add break even at the bottom and a huge global opportunity for growth, you have this massive economic opportunity that we believe is incredibly exciting.’ “

This confident proclamation by the CEO and CFO of General Motors comes as a huge surprise to Khulumani and the survivors of the abuses GM knowingly aided and abetted the South African security forces in committing. Khulumani’s lawyers are due to appear in court on July 14 to oppose General Motors attempt to be struck off the list of defendants in the South African apartheid litigation because of its bankrupt financial position. So on the one hand GM stands before the world declaring that it has the potential to thrive financially; on the other it intends standing before the courts declaring it is too poor to be held accountable for knowingly aiding and abetting the security forces of the illegitimate apartheid regime.

We demand that if GM is able to pay out profits and dividends to investors and shareholders, (and possibly also a bonus to its CEO?) as it has boldly proclaimed it is set to do, it can also use its ‘massive economic opportunity’ to pay reparations to the very people whose lives it knowingly helped destroy when it did business with the apartheid security forces. We cannot be silent, but must speak out (khulumani) when this corporation makes two-faced proclamations designed to avoid all accountability.

To the G8. For the Freedom Charter. From Torture Survivors.

26 Jun

Today, the 26th of June, is a significant one: in Toronto the leaders of the most economically powerful nations in the world meet to decide on their joint policies and practices going forward; here in South Africa we commemorate the 55th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter; and worldwide the day is observed as one to acknowledge the victims of torture — past and ongoing.

These events are all tied together by one common theme: the interaction of the most powerful with those most marginalised. The G8 talks supposedly focus on development and aid for the poorest on the globe – and will probably produce yet another faux commitment which could soon be  forgotten. The Freedom Charter was a brave attempt by oppressed South Africans to imagine the unimaginable 55 years ago — a framework for a just post-apartheid era. Most famously the Freedom Charter proclaims joint ownership of the country by “all those who live in it”. And the International Day focusing on victims of torture – particularly relevant in South Africa with our brutal history – is a small token of recognition by the world of those who have suffered some of the worst practices human beings have inflicted on each other, and in some instances, still do.

What will probably have been missed in the hours of reporting, commemorations and recognitions that take place worldwide today is the place of multinational corporations in these relations between the powerful and the marginalised.

The G8 comprises the largest country economies of the world; yet we rarely recognise that of the 100 largest economies in the world, over half are individual multinational corporations. The vast majority of these economically powerful corporations are housed within G8 countries – their fates are intricately and inextricably linked (as we saw in the bank and auto industry bailouts to save the US economy); what is good for corporations is usually good for the G8, and what this often means is that principles, accountability and regulation is sacrificed on the altar of profit maximisation.While the G8 focuses on the developing world, we call on it to also reflect on the way in which its corporations operate, often exploiting people and countries for their own profit. As with the companies willing to sell equipment to the apartheid security forces.

The Freedom Charter identifies  a number of different areas in which South Africans need(ed) to seek and achieve freedom. One important principle is clearly articulated in the section on the country’s wealth: “All…industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.” Today, as we commemorate the Freedom Charter, we call for this particular phrase to be acknowledged and implemented as one of the most equitable and just ways for business to function. Indeed all companies – domestic and multinational – must acknowledge that the local citizenship wherever business operations are based, are as important as the shareholders. These citizens are stakeholders – which is in and of itself a form of shareholding. This requires a shift from a simplistic ‘because we pay taxes, we have met our obligations’. For  the ‘wellbeing of the people’ to be addressed, corporations would have to know who the people directly involved and affected are. This would mean a hands on and face to face, humanisation of the corporations’ personae.

Finally on 26 June 2010, Khulumani recognises and acknowledges all its members who have survived torture. We remember that brave activists were handed over to the apartheid security forces through equipment used to track them down which was provided by companies like IBM. We remember that the military vehicles that picked them up, and transported them to detention to be tortured, were sold to the security forces by companies like Ford, Daimler and General Motors. And that the ammunition that was shot at crowds and individuals was provided by companies like Rheinmettal.

So today, on this G8-Freedom Charter-Torture Survivors day, we call on the world to recognise the damage corporations have wreaked in South Africa and globally; and to hold them accountable. It is time to secure what our people called for when they wrote in the Freedom Charter that: “All…industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”

Report on East Rand Reparations Workshop

24 Jun

 

The members of Khulumani-Indwe 'Speak Out' on Reparations!

Last week a group of 100 Khulumani members from the rural Eastern Cape village of Indwe travelled across the country to join the Khulumani East Rand Group in a march to highlight the issue of reparations, and to participate in a workshop to flesh out the issues around reparations.

Members of Khulumani-Indwe wear the Red Card Campaign t-shirts on their march.

As Khulumani national contact centre member Freedom Ngubonde writes: “On 12 June 2010 Khulumani-Indwe and Khulumani-East Rand marched along the infamous Khumalo Street in a symbolic re-appropriation of the street where many people were killed and maimed during the violence of the early 1990s. The march proceeded to a nearby stadium where members of Khulumani handed a memorandum to a representative of government. In the memorandum, amongst other things, members called for the boycotting and red-carding of companies that aided and abetted the apartheid regime; they demanded reparations and highlighted the fact that the TRC Unit has completely failed in its mandate of assisting victims and resolving the unfinished business of the TRC.”

Members share ideas for Khulumani's reparations policy.

These two groups went on to convene a “Speak Out” on Reparations which created the space for members to share their ongoing pain and trauma, what kind of reparations would make a positive impact in their lives, and how they can take action themselves to seek out solutions. The next day members of the Khulumani National Contact Centre travelled to Thokoza to meet with these groups and receive a mandate that will inform Khulumani’s evolving reparations policy proposal.

Some of these recommendations included:

- Pressuring government to set up a scheme which will enable victims to access proper health care, especially related to injuries and ongoing trauma from apartheid related abuses.

- Government must build proper houses for victims and survivors, especially where people’s houses were burned down/destroyed during apartheid.

- Commemorations and monuments should be built in places where victims’ live and not only in city centres/urban areas.

- In light of 16 years having passed since the end of apartheid, exhumations processes carried out by the NPA’s Missing Task Team should be speeded up and should be carried out in a respectful manner that respect’s victims’ rights and cultures.

- Reparations should include individual redress, community rehabilitation and funding aimed at supporting livelihood projects.

These critical reparations demands are only some of the broader aims and requests of Khulumani members, and the organisation at-large. Funds from the South African Government’s President’s Fund and/or any funds received from the lawsuit against multinational corporations should be put towards the rehabilitation of survivors lives in full recognition of the extraordinary damage caused by the gross human rights violations of the apartheid regime.

Clean out Corporations from Government!

21 Jun

On Friday, Democrat Senator from Rhode Island Sheldon Whitehouse made a rallying call to the American Senate, and people, to clear out corporations from government. In the wake of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill which continues to spew thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean ecosystem of the area everyday, this call is powerful in its simplicity, truth and passion.

Check it out here: http://videocafe.crooksandliars.com/karoli/sheldon-whitehouse

Unfinished business of business

8 Jun

The South African Apartheid Litigation, which includes the Khulumani lawsuit has been dragging on for over eight years now.

It charges that businesses which assisted the apartheid regime to survive way beyond it’s expiry date, to account to victims for the atrocities they suffered. And just like items that have expired, the extension of the apartheid regime stank.

It is often said that the business of business is business. But in this case it is the unfinished business of business that is the business of these businesses.

Come on Daimler, Ford, General Motors, IBM and Rheinmetall — when are you going to complete your unfinished business of apartheid? Why does it have to take a legal process for you guys to do the right thing?– the right business? Real human beings are involved — human beings whose lives have forever been adversely affected by your business with the apartheid security forces. We can introduce you to them.

It’s time to own up and acknowledge that what you did was wrong. And it’s time to talk to the victims and survivors of what you did. Talk to Khulumani. Perhaps you will even be able to get rid of the stink that’s associated with your names.

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