New democratic government should not have been held liable for apartheid regime’s debt: human rights lawyer

South African flags
South African flags
Image: Halden Krog

The five-day People's Tribunal on Economic Crimes kicked off on Saturday at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg with human rights lawyer Charles Abrahams as the first witness making a presentation on apartheid state secrets.

Firing the first salvo‚ he condemned the fact that the “new” South African democratic government should have been held liable for the debt accumulated by the apartheid regime.

He said that in 1993‚ during the transition period to a democratic South Africa‚ the apartheid regime’s total debt was about $80bn‚ of which $45bn was public debt.

He said that when new governments take over they should not be obliged to honour debt amassed by oppressive regimes.

“I argue that the transition was a complete change from a criminal government to a democratic government. So it cannot be fair that the apartheid debt will be paid by the new government‚” he said.

He said that South African government should be asking itself how it could hold accountable the corporate entities that were involved in extending debt to the apartheid government?

He also bemoaned the fact that the ambit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‚ which was chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in East London‚ did not extend to the corporate sector.

“The TRC did not sufficiently deal with issues emanating from the apartheid history‚ more specifically with apartheid economic crimes. I also think that the TRC recommendations should be revisited‚” Abrahams said. He said that the apartheid financial liabilities and obligations should not have been transferred to the new regime.

The tribunal‚ which one of the evidence leaders said is not a court of law nor has binding powers‚ will examine the continuities between apartheid-era economic crime; the post-apartheid arms deal and contemporary state capture.

The evidence is led before a six-member panel chaired by Zak Yacoob. The other panel members are Navi Pillay‚ Dinga Sikwebu‚ Mandisa Dyantyi‚ Yasmin Sooka and Allyson Maynard Gibson.

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