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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

International Day in Support of Victims / Survivors of Torture

29 Jun

On Saturday 26 June 2010, fifty-eight Khulumani members came together at Freedom Square in Kliptown, Soweto, to declare that they will never be silent, but will continue to speak out (khulumani) about torture and its devastating consequences on their lives. The members came from Mamelodi in Pretoria/Tshwane; Katlehong and Vosloorus in Ekurhuleni; Sharpeville and Sebokeng in Sedibeng; and from Soweto to remember the anniversary of the June 26, 1987 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. (UNCAT).

The common thread running through the Khulumani members’ narratives was their experiences of torture. This is not surprising given that torture was condoned by all levels of the apartheid police and security apparatus in South Africa, not only to intimidate but to extract information from anti-apartheid activists.

For most survivors of torture, the major persistent consequence is a destruction of their capacity to establish and sustain meaningful and trusting interpersonal relationships. As torture survivor Peter Pitso Moletsane from Klerksdorp had explained in his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): torture was designed to render its victims ‘unfit for life’.

When survivors of torture come together to collectively speak out about the abomination of torture, they are making a stand for life, rather than for death. A declaration by victims of torture that they are committed to working together for a world free of torture, is a powerful reclamation of survivors’ agency.

Despite worldwide condemnation of torture and the existence of treaty provisions that forbid torture and that criminalise perpetrators of torture, torture still occurs in two thirds of the world’s nations, including those that promote themselves as ‘civilised nations’. In South Africa, there is evidence that torture is still practiced by our security forces today in situations of involuntary detention. For Khulumani, it remains a responsibility to continue to SPEAK OUT in the struggle to ‘wipe the scourge of torture from the face of the earth so that torture may finally be consigned to the darkest spaces of history’. (Kofi Annan, June 26, 1998)

The June 26 Khulumani Commemoration programme to remember our history; to honour those who lived this history; and to speak out to stop the use of torture in South Africa, demonstrates that what happens in small places out of the public gaze will increasingly be exposed and those who commit the crime of torture will be held accountable.

Torture is one of the crimes which the defendant companies in the South African apartheid litigation, Daimler, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, IBM and Rheinmetall, are accused of knowingly aiding and abetting – through their deliberate business dealings with the security forces of the apartheid regime.

The Khulumani Commemoration ended with the launch of the book, ‘All That Was Lost’ by Professor Cath Byrne. The book is dedicated to the memory of Khulumani founder member, the late Mr Duma Kumalo.

Duma Kumalo performing at a Khulumani Support Group event

Duma was sentenced to death based on a fellow Sharpeville resident’s false testimony which was extracted under torture. Although Duma was released from jail hours before he was due to be executed, justice has not been served. His name has still not been cleared, despite his testimony to the TRC and three applications to the Department of Justice for the expunging of his criminal record. Unfortunately Duma died unexpectedly on 3 February 2006 at the age of 48. Khulumani Support Group and Duma’s family believe that a posthumous order by the Minister of Justice or the President of South Africa to expunge his criminal record would be in order, and call on the Minister and the President to expedite this request.

Officially Offside album goes LIVE!

27 Jun

Today we can officially announce  the launch of the amazing album in support of the Khulumani Red Card Campaign: Officially Offside! Produced in South Africa, but including artists from 14 countries, this album is a global collaboration of social justice minded hip hop artists who are all calling for corporate accountability.

Grahamstown-based group Defboyz coordinated the project and write the following:

“This compilation was compiled to show solidarity with the Khulumani Support Group legal action against several multi-national corporations who supplied the apartheid regime with the military equipment it used to suppress the majority of South Africa’s people. The core message of this CD is that social justice should never be subordinated in the pursuit of profits. Global society is confronted with a serious dilemma – our personal and national economic goals very often contradict basic human rights in other parts of the world. Should we throw our hands up in despair, or stick our heads in the sand? No, we must constantly strive to transform human society and human systems such that they sustain life and freedom. The artists represented on this CD come from all over the world (South Africa, Ghana, Congo, Togo, Uganda, Mozambique, Iran, the UK, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Chile, the US and Canada) and in a variety of languages – put one message across – that the powers that be must be held accountable for their actions! Peace.”

Check the album below, or on our Music 4 Justice page:

The album was launched at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival on Friday, 26 June, with a line-up of artists including Wordsuntame (track 21) and half of Blk Sonshine, Masauko Chipembere.

Follow-up spoken word gigs to promote the album will be held at Equilibrium on Friday and Saturday 2 & 3 July.