Ilham Rahoot |Mail & Guardian | 21 February 2020 |
The floor has been reopened.
The past two weeks’ furore over FW de Klerk’s denial and hasty withdrawal of his statement that “the system of apartheid is not a crime against humanity”, as well as the inquest into activist Neil Aggett’s murder in prison, have been a sharp reminder that not one of the democratically elected administrations has prosecuted anyone for the crime of apartheid.
And while the inquest into the violent death of Aggett and the murder case of fellow activist Ahmed Timol are a step forward, there are two other groups of apartheid criminals that remain seemingly untouchable — multinational banks and corporations.
Even after almost 20 years of civil society making several good attempts to hold banks and companies accountable, it seems the immediate post-apartheid legacy of not condemning impunity remains intact.
Beginning with the first legal action in 2002, known as the “apartheid litigation”, the issue has gone through a repeated cycle of expiry and resurrection — in the courts, public opinion and the media.
The apartheid litigation lawsuit, filed by the Khulumani Support Group in a United States district court and representing victims of human rights abuses under apartheid, sued 20 companies, including Daimler, IBM, Ford, ExxonMobil and JP Morgan. After several dismissals and subsequent appeals, the US courts finally dismissed the case in 2014.
These seemingly fruitless undertakings have left many wondering if any system actually exists that will bring these companies to justice, and who is being protected and why.
At this pivotal time it is worth going back to the most recent attempt at holding apartheid banks to account, which is still in progress.
In 2018, two South African organisations, Open Secrets and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), tried to bring Belgian bank Kredietbank, now KBC, and its Luxembourg sister bank Kredietbank Luxembourg, now Quintet Private Bank, to justice for financially uplifting the apartheid regime.
The issue at hand is that Open Secrets obtained damning documentation from the South African and Belgian archives, which show that Kredietbank and Kredietbank Luxembourg were instrumental in facilitating covert payments by the apartheid government for them to make sanctions-busting international arms purchases and loans.