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Apartheid looting: Why make noise now if govt likely knew all along?

Jan 16 2017 21:16
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) said on Monday it welcomes the next step of the Public Protector's investigation into apartheid-era "looting" from the SA Reserve Bank (Sarb).

On Friday it was reported that the Public Protector's office has finished its preliminary report into Absa allegedly having benefitted from billions in loans made by Sarb.

According to the Public Protector's preliminary findings, which were leaked, Absa should pay up to R2.25bn back to the public purse.

"Not only is the Public Protector's report much delayed, but the saga itself has drawn out since the 1990s, when Sarb first had an opportunity to fully recover the apartheid-era loans from Absa," according to R2K.  

Right2Know was launched in 2010 as a movement centred on freedom of expression and access to information.

"This entire episode underscores how little has been done to uncover apartheid-era corruption and return the proceeds of economic crime under the previous regime, more than two decades later," R2K said in a statement.

"Secondly, it is a reminder that two decades into democracy, we still have yet to see the full release of apartheid era secrets – millions of documents from the apartheid regime are still held by departments across government and have yet to be released to the public. In fact, Sarb currently faces a court challenge for refusing to release its apartheid records to the SA History Archive and the Open Secrets project."

In R2K's view, the issue is also a reminder of what it calls "current-day censorship".

READ: Absa report has ‘a number of errors’ – Sarb governor

"The issue of Absa's Sarb loans, and broader evidence of apartheid-era looting, are the subjects of the censored documentary Project Spear, which the SABC commissioned and then refused to broadcast in 2012. The SABC even sought a court order gagging filmmaker Sylvia Vollenhoven from ever distributing the film, or using the footage in any way," R2K claimed.

"If the SABC had not done a cover-up of its own documentary, millions of South Africans would know about this story already."

Illegally uploaded snippets of the documentary, which Fin24 has seen and are available on Youtube, are copyrighted to the SABC, according to Vollenhoven.

R2K calls for the speedy finalisation and public release of the Public Protector's report. R2K also wants Absa to pay back all the money it owes to the public coffers.

"We demand investigation and prosecution on apartheid-era and present-day corruption. We demand the full release of the millions of apartheid documents buried in government archives – no more secrets," said R2K.

READ: Absa decries leak of public protector report on apartheid billions

Open Secrets

Michael Marchant, a researcher at research organisation Open Secrets, told Fin24 on Monday that another colleague and himself have been researching apartheid area economic crime for the past four years. A book based on their research is due out early this year. Open Secrets is part of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

"We don't know how much has been changed in the Public Protector's report, but we understand former Sarb governor Chris Stals has provided new information on why Absa would be liable for some of the costs," said Marchant.

"Why has no one investigated that the loan was unlawful? The only argument up to now seems to have been whether Absa is the right entity to pursue for restitution. I have not seen the report, but there are indications suggesting Stals provided new information."

What is interesting for Marchant is that Stals would "break ranks" and provide the new information.

"Another important point for us is that there is not just this one case, but a number of cases that remain unresolved - especially during the period towards the end of apartheid. There are many such secrets about economic crime during that period," said Marchant.

"We see a lack of will in the new State to investigate or release documents from that era. Open Secrets and the SA History Archive have been trying to access Sarb records regarding certain investigations on apartheid era economic crimes and Sarb has refused to release any such documents - even some dating back to the mid-80s," Marchant claimed.

Marchant said the Absa deal should be looked at very carefully and be used as a springboard to have a deeper conversation about SA's past, what he calls "the legacy of corruption in SA and how the State was compromised towards the end of apartheid". Essentially, in his view, it should then also show how to tackle corruption in a contemporary sense.

Big question

Vollenhoven told Fin24 on Monday that the fact that the whole issue is now in the forefront is hugely rewarding.

"This kind of investigation takes a lot out of you. It has taken me and Noseweek's Michael Wells years to investigate. At the same time - as a SA citizen - I hope we won't get lost in a quagmire of political squabbles and lose track of the fact that money was stolen and that it has to be addressed," she said.

"There is detail of how many organisations were involved in handouts before the handover at the end of apartheid. If that money was stolen then those bank accounts are illegal and it should not be difficult for Sarb to go after them."

For her too the big question is why no one has been made to answer by either Sarb or the government.

"The story is huge, the evidence is great and the deception is hugely complex," she said.

Read Fin24's top stories trending on Twitter:

absa  |  sa economy  |  public protector  |  crime
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