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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.

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.

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.)


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.

Red Card Campaign and Khulumani in the Media

25 Jun

The Red Card Campaign has officially been running for three weeks and the response has been fantastic! With growing interest in our partner campaigns in Switzerland and Germany (and a fair bit of media coverage to boot), over 3000 visitors to the blog, and hundreds of people participating in activities at the People’s Justice Fan Centre we’re all thrilled by the success of the campaign thus far!

In the last week or so we’ve had a few major engagements with the media:

– Today, the Mail and Guardian features an excellent op-ed by Khulumani Advocacy Coordinator Tshepo Madlingozi, which focuses on the Constitutional Court case to secure the right for victims and survivors to call out their perpetrators as ‘murderers’ or ‘torturers’ even where these individuals received amnesty from the TRC. Check out that op-ed here.  (This story was also covered by the Pretoria News)

– Yesterday Khulumani Executive Director Marje Jobson was interviewed on SAfm’s Otherwise programme about the campaign and its importance for broader corporate accountability struggles.

– Last week, the Mail and Guardian published an investigative report on the work of the Khulumani group in Zamdela township, outside Sasolburg, who are trying to secure reparations from Sasol for the injuries caused, and killing of 77 workers, when Sasol called in the apartheid police force to break up a strike in 1987. For more on that struggle, see the story here.

A huge well done to everyone working on the campaign, and a plea to those following its progress to spread the word even further. As the world’s attention begins to turn to the G8 meeting in Canada, this is an ideal time to raise the importance of corporate accountability to the functioning of a just world!