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 in the Media!

28 Jun

Having only been launched last Friday at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, and yesterday online, the Officially Offside album has already been noticed by the media here in the Eastern Cape.

On Friday, the Herald and Daily Dispatch both covered stories about Creamy Ewok Baggends, whose first track on the album ‘Shame on the Game’ has captured people’s imaginations worldwide. Check out the story on Ewok here.

And getting some well-deserved credit for all his hardwork to make the dream of this album a reality, today’s Daily Dispatch is carrying a story on Xolile ‘X’ Madinda (the brains behind the operation) and how the whole thing came together so beautifully.

Big ups to X and to all the artists on the album.

Listen to the Music. Join the Movement. Demand Corporate Accountability.

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.

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.”

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!

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.

The Broader Corporate Struggle: Mining Companies and CSR

24 Jun

Khulumani recognises that its lawsuit against the particular named corporations is one fight amongst many to secure justice for individuals and communities across the globe, and ultimately bring about a shift in the way corporations behave worldwide.

One of the sectors of industry that has constantly proven to have a despicable track record in human and environmental rights worldwide is that of mining. South Africans will recognise the extent to which the large mining houses used the apartheid system to pay exploitatively low wages, and how migrant labour systems have scarred our society in deep and troubling ways.

Tomorrow, 25 June, the People’s Justice Fan Centre will host a seminar presentation by the Benchmarks Foundation which works on issues around the impact of mining on communities and the role of Corporate Social Responsibility in these areas.

The seminar seeks to lay out a broad understanding of mining’s impact on communities and particularly their corporate social responsibility. We hope to use the space as a time to share information and experiences of communities that have experienced the effects of mining. As the South African government and people found the resources and political will to organise the World Cup, we ask whether we can mobilise the same energy to address the impacts that mining companies have had on communities; health, land rights and the environment.

Organisations such as the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance, ACER and Benchmarks will all be involved in the discussion. All interested parties are encouraged to attend!

Date: 25 June 2010

Time: 10:30am-12:00pm

Venue: The People’s Justice Fan Centre, Central Methodist Mission, Mphuthi Street, Jabavu, Soweto.

World premiere of Shame on the Game song

23 Jun

The phenomenal opening song of the Khulumani Red Card Campaign CD – Shame on the Game – by Creamy Ewok Baggends was premiered at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown on Sunday 20 June.

The word-crunching, mind-stretching, shadow image, video-concertina’d eye-conic Ewok-iain show finished off with a final kick at corporate exploitation with his Shame on the Game composition.

Together Ewok, Khulumani and the other international artists featured on the album are ready to take on the corporates – calling for justice and accountability.

Khulumani Support Group thanks Ewok and all the other cool artists who have worked towards publicising the SA Apartheid (Khulumani) Litigation.

Catch the rest of Ewok’s shows in Grahamstown at the St. Andrew’s school hall at the following times:

Wed 23 June @ 20:00; Thurs 24 June @ 12:00; Fri 25 June @ 22:00; Sun 27 June @21:30 and Mon 28 June @18:00.

On Aung San Suu Kyi’s Birthday – Remember the Victories of Doe v. Unocal

22 Jun

On Saturday 19 June, the Burmese human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi ‘celebrated’ her 65th birthday, while still under house arrest. The Burmese military junta is easily identifiable as one of the continuing regimes perpetrating extreme human rights abuses, and exercising total control over the people of Burma.

What we hear less about, however, is the role corporations have played within the Burmese repressive state. In March 2005, Unocal a California-based oil company settled out of court with a group of Burmese plaintiffs in a case that sued Unocal for complicity in forced labour, rape and murder. According to the claim (filed in the US under the Alien Tort Statute – the same law being used to pursue the Khulumani litigation) Unocal knowingly hired the Burmese army units that used forced relocations, forced labour, rape, torture and murder to secure the route of an oil pipeline through Burma for the American oil company.

In 1997 the Doe v. Unocal case set a critical precedent for all future cases of corporate accountability when a US Federal District Court concluded that Unocal executives could be held legally responsible for violation of international human rights norms in countries outside the US, and that the US court system has the authority to adjudicate such claims.

According to EarthRights International: “After three years of discovery, the plaintiffs presented evidence demonstrating that, in the Court’s words, “Unocal knew that the military had a record of committing human rights abuses; that the Project hired the military to provide security for the Project, a military that forced villagers to work and entire villages to relocate for the benefit of the Project; that the military, while forcing villagers to work and relocate, committed numerous acts of violence; and that Unocal knew or should have known that the military did commit, was committing and would continue to commit these tortious acts.” The Court also concluded that “the evidence does suggest that Unocal knew that forced labor was being utilized and that [Unocal and Total, a co-venturer in the Yadana project] benefited from the practice” and that “The violence perpetrated against Plaintiffs is well documented in the deposition testimony filed under seal with the Court.”

The case was settled 2 months before the final trial date of June 2005, but the critical victories for corporate accountability had already been won. The Doe v. Unocal case secured, for groups such as Khulumani, that corporations could be held accountable through the US courts for violations that were once considered only the purview of individuals and states. This major victory must be acknowledged in the continuing struggle to establish clear, and strict precedents on what kind of business practices the international community continues to allow; or chooses to put a stop to.

When we think of 65-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi, and the repressive Burmese junta, let us not forget the corporations that associated with the regime, disregarding human beings for their profit bottom line. Let us ask who now provide the weapons and tanks? Who equips the junta to keep one of the world’s great human rights leaders imprisoned? And if we consider holding the leaders of the junta accountable, shouldn’t we also hold their suppliers accountable?

Thank you to the Doe v. Unocal case for breaking ground in the struggle for corporate accountability…Aluta Continua!