AFTER five years of the long-awaited public protector’s findings into what media reports termed apartheid economic plunder, Thuli Madonsela last week, announced that she hadn’t been investigating the theft at all.
“The Public Protector’s investigation looks into the propriety or otherwise of the alleged failure by the democratic government, not the apartheid regime, between 1998 and 2003, to implement advise from a retired UK intelligence officer regarding the recovery of an alleged R3.2 billion loan allegedly given to Bankorp by the SARB during apartheid,” her office said.
In layman’s terms, the office is investigating whether it is true that former President Nelson Mandela’s government commissioned the investigation in 1997, terminated it a year later and whether he and the Reserve Bank governor, Chris Stals, acted properly in allegedly failing to recover the funds, which they had allegedly been advised in the CIEX report that are recoverable.
The period under investigation includes the Mbeki presidency.
The shocking revelations came after the lobby group, Black First Land First (BLF) occupied the public protector’s offices last week demanding she release the findings which she had promised a year ago. The BLF members were arrested on charges of public violence, kidnapping, intimidation and trespassing. They were held in custody for eight days and released on bail this Wednesday.
Madonsela’s announcement was shocking only because of the volumes of newspaper articles dedicated to what was (mis)construed as an investigation into apartheid-era looting.
Media reports in 2011 said the public protector had decided to investigate apartheid’s economic theft which was detailed in a report commissioned by the government in 1997.
Known as the Ciex report, it detailed the billions of public money that had been misappropriated by the apartheid government and outlined ways of recovering some of the funds. Ciex detailed the extent of the corruption in the banking and financial systems during apartheid.
“Corruption was damagingly presented as a growing & uniquely black problem: but under white rule it had been institutionalised.”
It said the economy remained in white control but more specifically, in the hands of the Broederbond.
The report detailed how the government looted state coffers ahead of the democratic dispensation through various means including corrupt banking and financial systems, illegal lifeboats and subventions by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).
The first phase of the project was to recover approximately R15 billion; R3.2 billion from ABSA, R3 – 6 billion from Sanlam and Rembrandt now Remgro, and about R5.5 billion from Aerosptiale/Daimler-Chrysler.
The report exposed an “illegal gift” of R3.2 billion to Bankorp which was later bought by ABSA and “dressed up as a lifeboat organised by then Reserve Bank Governor Chris Stals in concert with Marinus Daling, ABSA’s CEO Danie Cronje and Anton and Johan Rupert”, it read.
Retired Judge Willem Heath who conducted an investigation on the lifeboat declared them illegal.
In 1986, the Reserve Bank secretly gave Nedbank, unconditionally more than R100m to cover the bank’s losses from lending to Louis Luyt, a prominent member of the Broederbond and a National Party propagandist who later became a rugby administrator.
It detailed a broad scheme of unlawful and irregular conduct in which funds were siphoned through foreign banks and through US based organisations for goods and services that were never provided.
It also mentions irregular payments by Armscor which totalled R14.4 bn.
Media had it wrong?
The public protector’s office denied claims that she had ever investigated apartheid economic theft saying the alleged crimes were not within the mandate of her office.
Oupa Segalwe, the public protector’s communications manager, labelled such media reports as “incorrect” and said they were aware of them and had attempted to clarify the issue as far back as 2011. “We also clarified this as far back as 2011 in a press conference held on 06 July that year after the Sunday Independent ran the story”.
Investigation not the “low-lying fruit” that persuaded Madonsela
It wasn’t just the media that had seemingly misunderstood the parameters of the investigation. The public protector received a request from Advocate Paul Hoffman on 10 November 2010. She initially declined to investigate the matter thinking Hoffman wanted her to investigate apartheid economic crimes but when he explained that his complaint was about the conduct of the post-apartheid government, she decided she could investigate but then declined on the basis that she lacked the resources for such an investigation.
Madonsela was working alone at the time and only assisted by an intern, her office said. She was however persuaded by Hoffman’s argument that the “investigation was ‘low-lying fruit’ in a sense that, according to the complainant, the issues were not being disputed by the parties involved and therefore the case would be easily settled”.
Five years on, the case is yet to be finalised. Although the public protector promised she would complete the report by the end of July, investigators who have done extensive work on apartheid grand corruption say she has promised this report for three years now.