Two years ago Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus featured on Noseweek’s cover – as a wary mother hen sitting on a nest of eggs, all labelled Top Secret – and clearly about to hatch. The caption read: “Reserve Bank still hiding apartheid-era looting”. There’s not a chance in hell that she did not get to see it – not that she would have needed to: she had been personally briefed on the subject by experts in the field several years before that.
An extract from the story to refresh your memory:
The ANC government was told in a secret report how apartheid-era government operatives stole hundreds of billions from the state – and how vast sums could be recovered from those responsible, and from the European bankers who’d helped them hide the loot.
But mysteriously, the Mbeki cabinet and the Reserve Bank decided to do nothing about it. Why?
The Bank's own shareholders' reaction to attempts to gag them has brought to light an explosive intelligence report in which the Mbeki government was secretly given a detailed account of the extraordinary extent of frauds on the apartheid state perpetrated by the nationalist elite with the collaboration of the Reserve Bank – frauds that their ANC successors have until now chosen to cover up for reasons that must still be explained.
The document prepared by UK investigators, Ciex, casts a whole new light on Thabo Mbeki’s and Trevor Manuel’s roles in setting up the 1999 arms deal as a major source of party funding: they had just been shown how, for more than a decade, their Afrikaner nationalist predecessors had done the same!
Headed “Operations on behalf of the South African Government 1997-1999” the document revealed that Ciex was commissioned by the SA Security Service to investigate how public funds were stolen or otherwise misappropriated during the apartheid era, with a view to recovering some pretty substantial sums of money, most of it still hidden abroad. Their report contains a strategic plan, ‘Project Spear’, designed to do just that.
Ciex’s first priority was to recover an illegal gift of R3bn-or-so that Absa Bank had secretly and illegally been given by the SA Reserve Bank. The reasons why Ms Marcus, a past Absa Executive Chairman, would rather not face questions about it are obvious. But what about the government? The ANC representatives about to gather at Mangaung? The voters? They would surely want it asked – and answered.
That thought brought Sylvia Vollenhoven, a producer of programmes for TV to my door. She had read the Noseweek story, had prepared a rough TV script from it after talking to a few people in the know and had sold the idea to an SABC2 producer who was embarking on a series of documentaries to be called Truth Be Told. Vollenhoven had also learned that the Public Protector had resumed an abandoned investigation into the matter, so the timing was perfect.
I and others in the know were asked to participate. So too the governor and board members of the Reserve Bank. (They refused – in writing.) On-camera interviews began. All was ready to fly by August, and Project Spear was to be the launch programme scheduled for 23 September at 9pm. But by then word had reached the upper echelons at SATV and panic had set in. One of the seniors suggested the programme was “a platform for bitter individuals to advance hidden personal agendas.” Another observed “The government is not going to take kindly to being asked the question: why are you walking away from recovering so much money?”
Indeed a long list of reasons for rejecting the film – after the SABC had spent R280,000 on producing it – was compiled by Veronica Barnard, Compliance Officer: Broadcast Compliance, Policy and Regulatory Affairs, SABC. Two are worth recording. The first: “The programme is, indeed, an unfair trial by the media …lacks what is fundamental to fairness: cross-examination or, at least, questioning of the star [government and SA Reserve Bank] witnesses (who declined to be interviewed). The defence of reasonableness, within a democracy that values freedom of expression, can therefore not be sustained.”
The second: “The episode also indirectly promotes the print media Nose Weekly [sic]. This also goes against SABC Policy.”
Half a dozen of the participants and the film crew gathered for a viewing on 19 October to see the final product – and collect our Oscars. We clap and conclude that the SABC2 audience would have loved it – and been left asking the same obvious question: why has the government not acted? It happened to be national Media Freedom Day, which commemorates the day in 1977 when the World newspaper and a range of organisations and publications were banned by the apartheid government because they were raising too many questions.
It is 2012, and what have we got? An SABC that is still the government’s timid servant – and another government that believes it’s entitled to act in secret to the detriment of its citizens.
Happy Christmas. – The Editor
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