31 July 2017

Press Release: SAHA goes to court to access apartheid-era records

For Immediate Release:

Why, after more than two decades of democracy in South Africa, is the apartheid archive still kept under lock and key? Secrecy is a key ingredient in the abuse of power and its legacy needs to be challenged. For these reasons, SAHA is going to court on Friday the 4th of August 2017 to compel the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) to release records of suspected apartheid-era financial crime. The matter will be heard in the High Court of South Africa (Johannesburg division).

The court case follows a request for the SARB documents, made under the Promotion of Access to Infromation Act (PAIA). Specifically included in this request was information about fraud through manipulation of the financial rand dual currency, foreign exchange or the forging of Eskom bonds. It is believed that these activities are linked to high profile individuals such as Johann Philip Derk (Jan) Blaauw, Vito Roberto Palazzolo, and Robert Oliver Hill (see more details in the attached annexure).

SAHA submitted the initial PAIA request in August 2014 in consultation with Open Secrets, a civil society organisation focused on investigating the links between economic crime and human rights abuse. The SARB formally denied SAHA's request over 14 months after submission despite the 30 day deadline stipulated by PAIA. The SARB lists, among other reasons, confidentiality and the possible risk to South Africa's economic interests as reasons for denying the request.

Crucially, SAHA argues, PAIA overrides these reasons. Key to note is that even if access could be denied under PAIA, access could still be granted under the public interest override provision in PAIA because these records may well reveal substantial contraventions of the law. The enactment of PAIA signalled an important break with apartheid era secrecy. The unwillingness of state institutions to release records that are in the public interest undermines this.

Given the current public outcry over alleged widespread state capture in South Africa, untangling the extensive networks that enable corruption is more pressing than ever. Private interests remain central to the abuse of state power. For this reason, it is essential to hold those responsible to account and access to information is a key instrument in these efforts. The constitutional right to access information applies equally to all public institutions and the Reserve Bank cannot claim special privelege.

Instead of forcing a lengthy legal process, the Governor of the Reserve Bank should consider the proactive disclosure of key archival records. Starting with its own apartheid era archive this would allow the Reserve Bank to emphasise its stated commitment to the values of transparency and integrity.

The actions of the Reserve Bank to withold information are not isolated within the state. This has informed a call, by SAHA and other civil society partners, including Open Secrets and the Right2Know Campaign, for the release of all apartheid-era records held by government.

The matter will be heard in the High Court of South Africa, Johannesburg Division. Right2Know, Open Secrets and other supporting organisations will have a presence inside and outside the court in solidarity with SAHA.

Read the court papers and visit the request online here.

For more information, please contact:

Toerien van Wyk, Co-Director of SAHA

076 084 9484

Hennie van Vuuren, Director of Open Secrets

082 902 1303

Carina Conradie, National Access to Information Coordinator of the Right2Know Campaign

071 571 4470

31 July 2017



Cast of characters – the focus of the PAIA request:

The following individuals either worked for the apartheid state, allegedly provided services such as facilitating the circumvention of United Nations sanctions, or stand accused of other financial crimes.

  • Vito Roberto Palazzolo is a former Sicilian mafia boss now in prison in Italy for mafia related crimes. In 1986, having escaped prison in Switzerland, Palazzolo sought refuge in the then Ciskei with help from National Party politician Peet de Pontes. He became closely tied to senior apartheid officials and it was alleged that Palazzolo was linked to the ‘Bank of Bisho’ in Ciskei used to launder money for joint South African Israeli weapons programmes. He went on to become a prominent businessman in South Africa, owning a wine farm and guest house in Franschoek, along with several properties in South Africa and Namibia.
  • Jan Blaauw started his own businesses in the 1970s, and allegedly became involved in the international arms trade. He was present at a meeting in 1976 when Fanie Botha (then a senior cabinet member) concluded a deal with the Israeli government to provide the government with 500 tons of uranium in return for 30g of tritium, a radioactive substance that thermonuclear weapons require to increase their explosive power.
  • Robert Oliver Hill, who fled the country in 1998 while facing more than 500 fraud charges, some related to a scam involving forged Eskom bonds.