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Du Plessis’s death a reminder of stokvels’ legal battles against apartheid

Struggle during Du Plessis's tenure as finance minister

Barend du Plessis was a former finance minister under the apartheid government.
Barend du Plessis was a former finance minister under the apartheid government.
Image: Robert Tshabalala

When I learnt about the death of the former National Party's cabinet minister Barend Jacobus du Plessis, I could not help it but recall my experience with the man or should I say his finance ministry office.

It is also a stuck reminder of the long journey of the legal battle undertaken by the stokvel movement via the National Stokvel Association of SA (Nasasa) against the hostile apartheid-era government.

The Foundation for Human Rights says Du Plessis was the last living suspect where there was prima facie case to answer regarding the murder of the Cradock Four in the Eastern Cape.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has in the past revealed that the former apartheid-era presidents, namely, PW Botha and FW de Klerk knew of the 1995 murder of Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlauli.

George Bizos, a lawyer for the families of the victims, known as the Cradock Four exposed copies of secret minutes of the state security council meeting in March 1984 chaired by then president Botha and attended by 12 ministers, including De Klerk.

The minutes show that Barend du Plessis, the then minister for black education (who was also an apartheid-era murder security branch officer), wanted Goniwe “removed” or “eliminated”.

Barend Jacobus du Plessis became the Minister of Finance from 1984 to 1992. It was during his tenure that the struggle to restore the dignity of the stokvel movement was waged and intensified by Nasasa.

Khehla Lukhele, founder and president of the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA).
Khehla Lukhele, founder and president of the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA).
Image: Veli Nhlapo

The association relied on the services of the Law Review Project

which worked towards the removal of legislation that imposed excessive restrictions on entrepreneurial development and other economic activities.

Its goal was the removal of unnecessary legislative barriers that limited free participation by all people in the economy, to promote the establishment and growth of new businesses with a view to the elimination of poverty.

In one of the speeches delivered in a 1991 conference, Professor Louise Tager, the executive director of the Law Review Project said: “Police action is not merely directed at the organisers of the stokvel...Individual policemen are often exposed to the risk of corruption. Police action against stokvel parties (meetings) divert scarce police resources from the prevention of genuine common law crimes, and the detection of common law offenders and above all brings the police into disrepute. When in the exercise of their duty they arrest innocent people for such trivial misconduct.”

A friend told me that one law professor used to say this about the apartheid government: “Thank heavens South Africans are notorious over-legislators. It keeps us in work. The rule is – if it moves regulate it. If it doesn't move, regulate it anyway, just in case it moves.”

In a SA characterised by recession, low economic growth, high inflation, inadequate new job opportunities, debt repayment problems and reduced capital inflow as a result of sanctions, some influential economists were looking to stokvels to contribute towards stabilising the situation.

Dr Japie Jacobs, special economic advisor to the then minister of finance, Barend du Plessis, said: “Government can assist by encouraging blacks to gain entry and by creating an equal environment. Subsidies and affirmative action are also perfectly acceptable.”

In this regard Jacobs mentioned that legislation covering mutual societies “can be changed to include broader informal sector institutions such as stokvels. We are not looking at forcing formal sector requirements onto them, which will kill them, but rather at encouraging their growth through formal recognition and assistance”.

The recognition of the role of stokvels was enhanced by the advent of the democratic government.

“In a developing country like SA, savings are of the upmost importance”, said Trevor Manuel, who was minister of finance in 2001.

Subsequently, the South African Savings Institute (SASI), believed to be the first such initiative in the world, was launched on April 2001.

In 2003 the government sold some of its Telkom shares.

It had planned to have the portions of its shareholding in various parastatals put up for redistribution to black individuals and stokvel groups.

Unfortunately, only about 445 stokvel investors bought the shares set aside for the poor.

It is on this basis that Sasol had joined forces with the stockbroking firm, Legae Securities, to impart financial education to stokvel members ahead of the share offer.

The involvement of stokvels is seen as crucial to the economy's growth. More than 14 million South Africans are believed to be members of these informal savings associations.

Saving is a matter of national interest and it is crucial that the Institute initiative should encompass all stakeholders, not just from the financial sector.

Lukhele is the founder and chairperson of the National Stokvel Association of SA.

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