Germany meets Australia in the Soccer World Cup tonight. The German team is sponsored by Daimler AG. Daimler’s new international brand campaign was launched on 11 June 2010 — the same day the FIFA World Soccer Cup commenced in South Africa! The new slogan for Daimler is “THE BEST OR NOTHING”.
When it came to aiding and abetting the apartheid government, most South Africans who suffered gross human rights abuses would have preferred that it was “NOTHING”. Daimler provided the apartheid military with vehicles. Over 6,000 Daimler Unimogs were widely used in the oppressive military and security forces. Spare parts for Casspirs, Hippos and Buffels were provided. These armoured vehicles were used to patrol and control black urban settlements, to disperse civilian assemblies and to raid communities in search of dissidents, all the while keeping safe the armed men and their guns, hidden inside the vehicles.
Daimler continued to provide and maintain this equipment in defiance of international sanctions and embargoes imposed over many years by the United Nations. In 1979, the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid in South Africa warned that transnational companies have to bear a “major share of responsibility for the maintenance of the system of apartheid, for strengthening the repressive and military power of the racist regime and for undermining of international action to promote freedom and human dignity in South Africa.”
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) confirmed that the international businesses involved in helping the apartheid military and other security forces, did not take responsibility for their actions and … for their involvement in the military and security forces.” Daimler AG as a key supplier of military equipment to the apartheid government, is one of these international businesses.
Daimler AG was repeatedly warned about how the equipment it was supplying, was being used. Reverend Beyers Naude addressed a Daimler AG Shareholders’ AGM in the following words: “I can assure you, Mr. Reuter (a former CEO), that these vehicles for which Daimler-Benz supplies the engines, are being used for aggressive purposes”. Daimler ignored these and many other warnings.
Khulumani plaintiff, Mr Mpho Masemola, addressed Daimler’s AGM in April this year, to extend an invitation to Daimler to begin a dialogue with victims of apartheid violations in South Africa. Daimler CEO, Dr Zetsche responded by stating that Daimler denies any responsibility for human rights violations in South Africa and that the company has no case to answer as the company conducted its business in South Africa according to German law and with the support of German politicians. Khulumani is concerned at this attempt by Daimler’s CEO to justify its conduct by claiming that it has always acted in accordance with German law and the will of German politicians, given its history of compliance with the orders of the Third Reich.
Khulumani notes that Daimler may have become more aware of that fact that “those that do business in countries with no respect for human rights do so at their peril” (Ntsebeza and Bell) and that Daimler has apparently recently withdrawn its trucks from Iran on the basis of its concern for the human rights practices of Iran. The record remains, however, that Daimler refused to withdraw its equipment from South Africa at the height of the political struggle in apartheid South Africa, at a time when the whole world knew what was happening in South Africa and when the United Nations had passed many resolutions about the crime of apartheid.
Khulumani also notes Dr Zetsche’s assertion at the AGM that Daimler AG has “nothing” to hide; that it informed the South African TRC that its archive was open and that this is still the case. Khulumani thanks Dr Zetsche for this and appreciates Daimler’s invitation to Khulumani to research the archives. Khulumani graciously accepts this invitation and will shortly be formally requesting a date and time in which acknowledged academic researchers will be granted access to Daimler’s archives.
Khulumani believes that a company that wishes to promote responsible business dealings in South Africa, should be willing to take responsibility for its past actions and should agree to meet with victims of these actions, especially when that company played so central a role in apartheid.
Khulumani notes that Dr Zetsche recently responded to the finding of the culpability of Daimler and certain of its affiliates and subsidiaries, charged for bribery in securing government contracts in 22 countries around the world, by saying, “We have learned a lot from past experience. Today, we are a better and stronger company, and we will continue to do everything we can to maintain the highest compliance standards.” The investigation of those cases, that were tried in the United States, revealed that Daimler had improperly paid some $56 million in bribes, that in turn awarded the company some $1.9 billion in revenue and at least $91.4 million in illegal profits.
Khulumani will not give up its call to Daimler to address its complicity with the apartheid government and to compensate victims for the harm that they were caused through Daimler’s involvement in the oppression of the majority of South Africans during the apartheid era.
So far, Daimler has given nothing to the indirect victims of its complicity with the illegitimate apartheid regime. It’s time to change this. It’s time for Daimler to become “the best” example of acknowledging its mistakes of the past; it’s time for Daimler to become “the best” at listening to and responding to the needs of the South African victims and survivors; it’s time for Daimler to consider making “the best” offer to settle the South African apartheid litigation. Because NOTHING is not acceptable — and nothing will make the victims and survivors stop highlighting Daimler’s irresponsible, cold-blooded and cold hearted behaviour in apartheid South Africa. In fact “nothing” but your “best” offer can begin to make things right.