Apartheid guns and money: A tale of global profit

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law presents:

Hennie van Vuuren, director of Open Secrets

Date: Tuesday, 21 May 2019
6pm to 7pm
Venue: Monash University Law Chambers, 555 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
RSVP: Register here

Public lecture - All welcome

Who secretly supported the last white regime in South Africa and profited from it? What can be done to hold economic criminals to account who have escaped justice? Author of Apartheid, Guns and Money: A tale of Profit Hennie van Vuuren will discuss the network of deep state actors in corporations, banks, intelligence agencies, arms dealers and prominent politicians in over fifty countries complicit in this crime against humanity. This tale of economic crime, uncovered through painstaking archival research in over two dozen archives and numerous interviews, helps us understand the legacy of corruption in a democratic South Africa today. Twenty five years after the end of apartheid - South Africa is today grappling with the scourge of state capture by contemporary political and economic elites. The book shows how the old corrupt networks which benefited from white nationalism quickly sought to corrupt the country's first democratic government.

Now published internationally by Hurst and Oxford University Press (2019) this research has generated much needed debate about the need for legal mechanisms to hold corporations to account that profit from grave crimes. The evidence it contains is part of an unfolding litigation strategy and has found strong resonance amongst South Africans who wish to finally see justice for past crimes.

Hennie van Vuuren is a South African activist and writer. He is the director of Open Secrets a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town that investigates and seeks accountability for economic crimes, abuse of power and human rights violations. He has also worked as Director of the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town and for Transparency International in Berlin. He is the co-author of The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal Changed Everything (2011).

Event Summary

Hennie’s talk on apartheid, guns and money centred around the shocking discoveries he and his team made while investigating the economic crimes that took place during South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime.

He began by acknowledging that while there exists a prevailing myth that the ‘issue of corruption is part and parcel of African governments, and black-led governments’ corruption in South Africa was widespread and thriving far before the dawn of democracy in the country over 20 years ago. Indeed corruption was rampant both in South Africa and abroad during apartheid as States, companies, and financial institutions sought to profit from the oppressive system.

Several states, international banks and companies were found to have economic ties to South Africa during apartheid. Hennie explained that at the time there existed significant ‘solidarity networks’ that economically supported the apartheid regime, and profited from this relationship. He discussed in detail the case of Dulcie September, an anti-apartheid activist who sought to expose these crimes and was murdered in the process in Paris. Dulcie’s research, along with a vast volume of newly declassified archival documents obtained through Freedom of Information laws led Hennie and his team to discover links to major banks, arms companies and intelligence agencies across Europe that acted in collusion to sustain the apartheid regime. Hennie importantly pointed out that the money directed towards these solidarity networks through South Africa’s purchase of arms was redirected away from the South African population. This filtered into the democratic era when Nelson Mandela’s government started doing business with some of the same arms companies, while the country was struggling immensely with issues of poverty and the spread of HIV AIDS which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands at the time.

Hennie also highlighted that while reconciliation efforts in South Africa were able in many cases to shed light on the horrendous crimes that were committed against black South Africans, they fell short of holding those responsible to account for economic crimes committed during the regime. He concluded that the legacy of the human rights abuses that occurred during apartheid, and the economic crimes that took place throughout that period have seriously impacted the political and economic landscape of South Africa today.

Want to hear more?

Hennie’s presentation was followed by an engaging Q&A session hosted by Castan Centre Director Sarah Joseph. To hear more, you can watch the full video of the event on the Castan Centre’s YouTube Channel.