We, the undersigned organisations and individuals committed to justice for historical crimes and social justice in South Africa write in support of the South African History Archive. On Tuesday 03 March 2020 it faces the next round in an epic battle against the South African Reserve Bank in the Bloemfontein Supreme Court of Appeal. This case (see more details on SAHA’s website and this New Frame article) is fundamentally important to the work of civil society in South Africa and involves central questions related to the unfinished business of justice for apartheid era economic crimes. SAHA”s appeal – led by Lawyers for Human rights and Advocate Geoff Budlender – against a court ruling made by the South Gauteng High Court is vital to understanding our past and continued efforts for social justice for the following reasons:
1. Challenging impunity: By denying access to records of its own investigations into alleged economic crimes during apartheid the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) is protecting the interests of a small group of men, some of whom have been implicated in serious economic crimes and human rights abuses. These include ‘Dr Death’ – Wouter Basson (the architect of the apartheid chemical and biological weapons programme), convicted mafia boss Vito Palazzolo. See the full list here.
2. Demanding access to information: The South African Reserve Bank should not act as if laws such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), do not apply to it. The refusal access to information was without a reasoned basis. The free flow of information is the lifeblood of our hard won democracy. The SARB and its governor should act with integrity and ensure the release of these records and not protect the powerful (including many linked to significant acts of criminality) at all cost.
3. The chilling effect: In finding against SAHA the South Gauteng High Court has reversed long standing practice (established in the Biowatch case) by ordering SAHA to pay the SARB’s legal fees. The amount is significant (R2.7 million) and will serve to not only potentially bankrupt SAHA but send a chilling effect to all civil society organisations which are unlikely to take the State to court in future to gain access to records that are in the public interest.
This struggle is in the interest of all South Africans and deserves our support. We call on the Governor of the SARB to do the right thing: release the records, withdraw the request for cost payments by SAHA and show that you are invested in our constitutional right to access information and serve the public interest.
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
Ahmed Timol Foundation
Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)
Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)
Centre for Change
Centre for Environmental Rights (CER)
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)
Equal Education Law Centre (EELC)
Foundation for Human Rights
Human Rights Media Centre
Imam Haron Foundation
Khulumani Support Group
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
My Vote Counts (MVC)
Neil Aggett Support Group
Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA)
Public Affairs Research Initiative (PARI)
Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)
South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI)
Yasmin Sooka (former TRC Commissioner)
Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza (former TRC Commissioner)
Mary Burton (former TRC Commissioner)