Defend Truth


Money can’t buy you reconciliation


Chris Vick is chairperson of Mobilize, which launched the Energy Comms campaign earlier this year to build public understanding of the energy crisis. Mobilize did similar work in 2020-2022 around Covid-19 under the name COVID Comms.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has a heart in a right place when he proposes “white tax”. But there's so much more to be recovered by going after the real cowboys and the real crooks.

During the struggle (although some media have recently started using a capital “S” when discussing the war against apartheid, Daily Maverick is, well, a maverick), I was part of a propaganda unit that designed a poster to highlight an often-ignored element of the apartheid regime – its corrupt, money-laundering, sanctions-busting side.

The poster was headed “Cowboys and crooks” and showed the link between apartheid’s dodgy bank-rollers and its cruel death squads through a rogues’ gallery of six men:

The Cowboys: FW de Klerk, military intelligence chief General Christoffel van der Westhuizen and police minister Adriaan Vlok, who we fingered for their roles as apartheid’s lords of war and kings of cruelty.

The Crooks: information minister Stoffel van der Merwe, Broederbond chief Gerrit Viljoen and foreign minister Pik Botha, who we singled out for their roles in sanctions-busting, money-laundering and looting the apartheid purse for the benefit of themselves and their cronies.

The poster, distributed through the South African Communist Party in the early 1990s, called on all South Africans to “Sweep the crooks and assassins out of power…”

By mid-1994 our propaganda unit was able to disperse. The war was over, it seemed, and power had begun to shift. We had indeed swept the crooks and assassins out of power and were deployed into office, even if we weren’t entirely in power ourselves. All South Africans were free to play their rightful roles in building a new democratic society. All South Africans were free to earn and hold a place in the democratic economy. No more cowboys and crooks, we thought…

But there were huge financial headaches which we were to uncover in the heady days that followed – not to mention a few potential new cowboys and crooks. And as Julius Malema and so many other economic freedom fighters have pointed out, it’s the economic struggle – the second stage of the two-stage revolution, as we described it in the SACP – where the most work still needs to be done.

Yes, the reconciliation challenge remains. But alongside it is a set of daunting economic challenges – including a much-needed war on post-apartheid corruption – which are growing by the day.

Enter the latest voice: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has probably retired from his post more times than most people have applied for a job. He has a new, yet old idea on how to deal with both social and economic justice.

As Tutu describes it, it will be built around the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s call for “a scheme to be put into place to enable those who benefited from apartheid policies to contribute towards the alleviation of poverty”.

Reactionaries have been quick to try to write off Tutu’s idea as a “white tax”.

It’s an interesting idea, but a rather curious one if it is intended to really address social and economic injustice. Predictably, it’s drawn heavy fire from the white people who benefited the most under apartheid – cowboy/crook FW de Klerk (who no longer has enough supporters to form a party or a government, so he runs a foundation instead), the Freedom Front  Plus and soon, no doubt, Steve Hofmeyr.

As a patriot who is deeply committed to building a united and just nation, I’d love to see targeted, meaningful, effective interventions which contribute in a real way to reconciliation, social and economic justice. Tutu’s God knows these are long, long overdue – particularly as racial hatred begins to resurface alongside increasing economic injustice and threatens our social fibre.

But does the solution really lie in a new revenue stream, even if there is supposedly a reconciliatory motive? Would we not benefit more from a national effort, involving civil society, the state, people of all races, and people of all classes embracing Tutu’s own notion of a “Rainbow Nation” and making it real – rather than a new “sin tax”? Is it about money in the bank, or about behavioural change, a change of heart or an exchange of money?

After all: Can money really buy you reconciliation? Can it bring about social and economic justice? Can it bring about behavioural change?

But even if you are looking for money, shouldn’t your approach be more targeted than a race-based tax? Does the Archbishop expect Ronnie Kasrils or Derek and Trish Hanekom to pay “white tax”, for example, after decades in the ANC underground and a post-apartheid lifetime of service to the people? And what’s the “means test” for who benefited from apartheid? Do I get a tax break for five years in the ANC underground and seven years in post-apartheid government?

What complicates things is, firstly, the fact that huge portions of the current national fiscus (ie. the taxes we already pay) have been diverted away from contributing to social and economic justice – more than R70 billion, for starters, on the Arms Deal, with little or any sign of benefits to anyone, but the arms manufacturers (and Fana Hlongwane, of course. Did someone mention cowboys and crooks?).

The R70 billion has been spent, apart from kickbacks, on ships that can’t sail (defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu told Parliament last week that one of the four Corvettes we bought was damaged by rough seas and will take more than two years to repair). And on planes that can’t fly (the air force admitted in April that it can’t afford to put its new Gripen fighters into flight for the required number of hours. Instead, it is having the cockpits of 24 Hawk jet trainers “Gripenised” to make for a smoother transition for pilots).

Which begs the question: Why not save a good few billion by scrapping the Arms Deal and spending the money on service delivery instead?

But there’s more – literally, a huge pot of gold out there which is yours for the asking. It’s the R26 billion which Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has targeted in her investigation into apartheid-era corruption proceeds.

Madonsela’s investigation, buried in the bluster of the Cele Report last month, appears to be founded on a 1999 report by a UK-based company named Ciex, run by a former chief of MI6, Michael Oatley.

The report outlines what the Sunday Independent recently described as “a smorgasbord of corruption and looting of public coffers in the final years of the oppressive apartheid regime”.

The report said the South African government could retrieve:

  • R3.2 billion from Absa.
  • R3 billion to R6 billion from Sanlam and Rembrandt, major investors in Bankorp.
  • Up to R5.5 billion from French aerospace manufacturer Aero-spatiale/Daimler-Chrysler.

Ciex also claims that Armscor, the state arms company, siphoned R14.4 billion through “Luxemborg accounts, managed through the Paris Embassy”.

ANC NEC member Billy Masetla was the South African government’s signatory to Ciex’s report, so maybe Tutu should give him a call and we could start accessing the apartheid proceeds?

The snag, however, is that Madonsela says she cannot investigate the apartheid looting because of resource constraints – despite the fact, as the Institute for Accountability’s Paul Hoffman puts it, that “the country could certainly do with the windfall money that would flow from the successful reversal of the lifeboat to banks. The building of housing for the poor could be expedited with the money collected; the banks had made provision for repayment of this ‘contingent liability’ so getting them to pay should not be too difficult”.

But, as if that pot of offshore apartheid-era gold isn’t big enough, how about taking a bite out of the debt mountain that we inherited from the apartheid cowboys and crooks?

Action for Southern Africa, successor to the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, has a colourful way of describing the scale of that mountain in a recent report on apartheid debt: “When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, rich countries and banks handed him and the people of Southern Africa a bill for 28 billion pounds sterling.”

That’s around R330-billion, which we’ve had to pay off, as post-apartheid taxpayers, to cover the costs of the cowboys and crooks who looted the apartheid purse.

It’s debt rung up by the Van der Merwes, Viljoens, Bothas and De Klerks of this world in an attempt to prop up the apartheid regime. It is apartheid debt, plain and simple – and a healthy source of recourse for a post-apartheid state, if you’re serious about a financial intervention.

Okay, Arch, I was never that good at maths. But I figure that if it’s money you’re after you could start by leading an integrated campaign by all South Africans who care enough to:

  • Cancel the Arms Deal now and save R50 billion.
  • Find a way to get those nice liberal friends of yours in Europe and North America to cancel ALL Third World debt, including the R330 billion we had to pay in the early years of our democracy.
  • Deploy a few pastors to the Public Protector and help her investigate how to recover the R26 billion. Alternatively, put the people who’re sniffing around Malema’s bank accounts onto the bank accounts of De Klerk, Botha, Viljoen and company.

“White tax”? There’s more than R400 billion out there waiting for all of us. So let’s start by going after the bastards who plundered the apartheid purse and built up their own offshore nest-eggs – not to mention that massive, multibillion-rand pre-apartheid debt we’ve all had to pay for. And the hugely indulgent, massively corrupt Arms Deal brokered by post-apartheid cowboys and crooks.

Let’s have a “Cowboys and Crooks Tax” first. Then we can talk about the rest. DM


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