South African’s National Liberation Movement

Close this search box.


ANC Submission to Special TRC Hearing on The Role of Business

20 November 1997

The ANC welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We firmly believe that reconciliation in our country depends on the coming to terms with the past by all stakeholders – including those who had power and influence in the past. We thus welcome this inquiry into the role of business during the apartheid period.

From the earliest days of European colonisation of South Africa, economic and other measures introduced by successive colonial and apartheid regimes sought, among other things, to benefit white property owners, including farmers, mine owners, industrialists and financiers, at the expense of the black majority.

The pursuit of this objective continued throughout the period of apartheid rule, including the years of extreme repression which the TRC is mandated to review.

These measures included land dispossession, pass laws and influx control, racist labour legislation and practices, wage policy, financial interventions to help white capital, acquisitions and industrial initiatives aimed at achieving this objective.

Throughout the period of white minority rule, these white economic interests were not merely passive beneficiaries of the activities of the white state. They were also active participants and initiators in constructing a political and economic system which, in the end, was classified in international law as a crime against humanity.

The period of extreme repression, from 1960 onwards, was intended to save the system that protected privilege based on race, thereby continuing to guarantee business its exclusive place in the South African economy and society.

The business community in South Africa was not in the past, any more than it is now, a monolith. It consisted of a many different firms operating in several sectors, numerous individuals at various levels of decision-making and a number of business organisations. A part of the business community – black business – was, indeed, historically oppressed and suppressed by apartheid. The ANC acknowledges that significant forces within the historically privileged business community, including some of the major corporations, were never directly supportive of the ruling party in the apartheid state. Prominent individuals and corporations were well known as supporters and financiers of (white) opposition parties, and differences between business and the apartheid government were evident at various times. We acknowledge, too, that the business community in South Africa played an important role in the 1980s in setting our country on a path towards a negotiated transition.

We, nevertheless, believe that there is a need to recognise that apartheid was more than the programme of one political party. It was a system of racial minority rule that was both rooted in and sustained white minority socio-economic privilege at the expense of the historically oppressed black majority. Apartheid was associated with a highly unequal distribution of income, wealth and opportunity that largely corresponded to the racial structure of the society.

The historically privileged business community, which still today owns and controls the vast bulk of the wealth of our country, needs, we believe, to acknowledge that discrimination and oppression played a pivotal role in determining current patterns of ownership and control. The skewing of the distribution of wealth, income and opportunity in favour of the white minority was inextricably linked to the disadvantage, disempowerment and discrimination perpetrated against the black majority. It is true that not all the laws of apartheid were directly sought, or supported, by all sections of business. A number, indeed, were actively opposed by important business interest groups, which saw them as unwelcome intrusions into the operation of the market. Several of the core measures of segregation and apartheid (which denied basic human rights to the majority) were, however, critical in determining the growth path and patterns of accumulation of wealth in South Africa and were actively promoted by important business groups. More generally, apartheid created over many years a climate favourable to the building up of resources by a privileged minority. Many business decisions were based on, at least, tacit acceptance and approval of the status quo until challenged by pressure from the oppressed people themselves. These business interests protected white minority privilege.

The ANC believes that the business community must acknowledge the role of past discrimination and oppression in shaping present patterns of ownership and control of the economy as well as the extreme distortion in the distribution of skills and expertise that now prevail. We believe, too, that the business community must acknowledge both its own role in creating some of these conditions and its extensive collaboration with a system involved in gross violations of human rights.

Among the specific issues that we believe need to be addressed are:

1. The Role of Business in shaping Apartheid Laws

One of the major debates in South African historiography in recent decades has been over the relationship between capital and apartheid. While some writers argued that apartheid was an ideologically created system imposed on business against its will, a number of well researched and credible studies have shown that many of basic laws of segregation and apartheid were introduced to create a cheap black labour force to benefit businesses drawn from the white minority. Some examples:

Pass Laws pre-dated the coming into power by the Nationalist Party government in 1948, dating back in fact to 1760. During the nineteenth century they were extended unevenly across the country, but their real consolidation as an effective instrument of coercion and control dates from the time of the development of the mining industry. With the openly stated intention “…to have a hold on the native whom we have brought to the mines”, mineowners pressed throughout the first half of the century for a tightening up and extension of pass laws. S.Jennings, a President of the Chamber of Mines at the end of the last century, described the pass laws, ” a most excellent law… which should enable us to have complete control over the Kaffirs” (as quoted in Webster, 1983, p 10). In many respects the apartheid government can be seen as having done no more than further extending and tightening up the application of a measure introduced at the behest of the mining houses for their own benefit. It is our contention that the continued existence in force after 1960 of pass laws must be acknowledged as a measure that continued to benefit the mineowners and other employers.

The Masters and Servants Laws are another example of repressive legislation enacted to serve employer interests. These laws made it a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for black workers to break their contract by, inter alia, desertion, insubordination or refusing to carry out the command of an employer. Breaches of contract by employers were, however, a civil offence. These laws remained on the statute book until 1977 and continued to be used in varying degrees by employers after 1960.

* Until the re-emergence of trade unions of black workers after the 1972/3 strikes, there was little evidence of any dissatisfaction on the part of business with the fact that “pass bearing natives” were specifically excluded from the formal bargaining structures set up by the Industrial Conciliation Act. The exclusion of Africans from the system set up` in the 1920s had indeed been insisted on by employers organisations as the price to secure their acceptance of such an arrangement with non-African workers. The 1953 Native Labour (Settlement of Disputes) Act, which prohibited Africans from membership of registered trades unions, it is true, drew a lukewarm opposition from some employer organisations – mainly on the grounds that by keeping African workers out of registered unions might make unions of African workers more militant. However, Labour Minister Ben Schoeman’s policy of “bleeding the black trade unions to death” and the subsequent repression of African worker trade unions drew little by way of opposition from most business organisations. On the contrary, as we shall show later, many businesses appeared content to respond opportunistically by holding down black wage levels.

Influx Control regulations represented an attempt to redirect “surplus” black labour from the cities to the farms. While they were opposed by some sections of business, their basic intention was to benefit white commercial farmers unwilling to pay even minimal market related wages.

* The agricultural sector needs, in our view, to acknowledge its role in the forced removals of the 1960s and 1970s. These were no mere aberrations of ideologically blinkered bureaucrats, but inextricably linked to important changes in agriculture. Research has shown that the 1960s saw an important change in the organisation of labour in agriculture with a shift from the “labour tenant” to a “contract labour” system. Under the former, workers’ families were given the right to occupy and work a portion of the farmers’ land, under the latter workers were recruited to the farm for a contract period. A sizeable proportion of the millions of people forcibly removed from rural areas proclaimed white to the Bantustans in the 1960s and 1970s were former labour tenants – “surplus people” that no longer ministered to the needs of white farmers who were forcibly evicted often from the areas where they had been born.

Group Areas laws had many intentions and effects. One was to exclude black owned businesses from central business districts. This undoubtedly benefited, and was intended to benefit, a number of white owned businesses that were insulated from potential competition from black entrepreneurs. Even outside the proclaimed white urban areas, black business was severely restricted. In 1963, the Department of Bantu Administration instructed local authorities that African business should be confined to the homelands, and trading rights in African townships allotted only to those qualified for permanent residence. Only those business activities which provided for essential daily domestic activities were to be allowed, with the result that Africans could not for instance set up dry-cleaning businesses or garages in the townships. The prospects for developing African entrepreneurs were to be further thwarted by regulations forbidding Africans to own more than one business. This was extended in 1968, when no African who had business interests in the homelands was allowed to set up in the townships as well. Even when some of these restrictions were relaxed by proclamation in 1976, an annexed schedule of permitted activities excluded important areas like small scale manufacturing. There is no doubt that pressure from constituencies in the white business sector was at least partly behind the apartheid government’s actions in this regard. Even where this was not the case directly, Asmal, Asmal and Roberts (1996, p 135) note that:

“Such prohibitions established a clear field for white business, while the exclusionary tendering practices of state and parastatal institutions complemented apartheid’s active dismantling of black business with equally proactive support for privileged citizens seeking to occupy a playing field from which blacks were forcibly excluded. Throughout all of this there were no protests from white business groupings or individuals; rather they treated these restrictions on others as opportunities to expand the scope of their own activities and profits”.

2. Business’ Own Practices in the Apartheid Era

While apartheid legislation established a basic framework of discrimination and oppression, the practices of many businesses were themselves often racist and discriminatory. Such practices went further than minimally complying with externally imposed requirements that could not be altered. Businesses themselves often engaged in discriminatory practices that went beyond what was required of them by apartheid law. Many businesses were also often only too willing to take advantage of potential opportunities created by apartheid repression to advance themselves at the expense of black workers or competitors.

The migrant labour system and the compounds were not legislated into existence by governments hostile to business, but brought into being by the mining houses themselves. Research has shown that the migrant labour system was the key to the cheap labour policies of the mining industry. The Chamber of Mines, which grouped the major mining houses, became a powerful force in establishing highly exploitative and coercive relations in the mining industry. Not only did it lobby successfully for a tightening up of pass laws, but itself established monopoly recruiting organisations that institutionalised the migrant labour system. The importance of this system to the mining houses was explained by an official of the Chamber of Mines to the 1944 Lansdowne Commission as follows:

“It is clearly to the advantage of the mines that native labourers should be encouraged to return to their homes after the completion of the ordinary period of service. The maintenance of the system under which the mines are able to obtain unskilled labour at a rate less than ordinarily paid in industry depends on this, for otherwise the subsidiary means of subsistence would disappear and the labourer would tend to become a permanent resident upon the Witwatersrand with increased requirements” (Quoted in Davies, O’Meara, Dlamini, 1985, p 9).

Highly restrictive contracts and the closed compound system – in which workers were segregated along “tribal” lines – formed the other main pillar of the highly coercive system of labour control that remained in force on the mines over many decades – and indeed features of which remain intact today.

The compound system also had the effect of forcing the workers to leave their wives and children behind in the homelands. This had a devastating effect on the family structure. Women who accompanied their husbands to the urban areas but who could not live with them in the hostels and did not have jobs of their own, were ‘endorsed out’ by law and sent back to the homelands.

In 1897, the mining houses agreed among themselves not to pay more than a “maximum average” wage – thus ensuring that any labour shortages would not result in higher wages. This agreement remained in force until the mid-1970s. Its net effect, in the context of the other measures described above, was that the average real wage paid to black workers in the mining industry remained lower in 1969 than it had been in 1889 (Wilson, 1972, p46).

There were no apartheid laws that specifically prevented businesses paying their black workers more than the prevailing minimum or which made it illegal for employers to pay black employees at the same rates as whites. It was decisions taken by businesses themselves that played a major role in determining patterns in this regard.

Until pressed by a resurgent trade union movement in the mid-1970s, and in many cases even beyond this, business generally acted as though “cheap black labour” was a natural endowment like the weather or mineral wealth. During periods when apartheid state repression succeeded in undermining the ability of black workers to organise to defend their own interests, businesses often responded opportunistically and held down wages paid to black workers. The average real African industrial wage rate, which had risen by 50% between 1940 and 1948, fell continuously for five years after 1948 and did not reach 1948 levels until 1959 (W.J.Steenkamp quoted in O’Meara, 1996, p81). Between 1963 and 1972, when the apartheid economy boomed black wages stagnated and the wage gap between black and white workers widened. The average monthly wage paid to African workers in the mining industry was R 24 in 1970 – a figure lower in real terms than the wage paid in 1889. In industry – the highest paying sector – monthly wages paid to African workers stood at R 70, well below the various estimates of the minimum necessary to support a family at minimal nutritional levels. The ratio of white to African wage levels in manufacturing was 5,5:1 in the same year, whilst in mining it stood at 16,3:1 (Davies, O’Meara, Dlamini, 1985, p 31).

For decades business appeared content to accept that black workers should be paid less than whites. Its disputes with white workers and government over job colour bars essentially concerned the precise level at which the white/black divide in the workplace should be located, and what jobs previously performed by whites could be handed over to black workers at lower rates of pay. Although specific legislative interventions to shape racial division of labour – like Section 77 of the 1956 Industrial Conciliation Act providing for statutory job reservation determinations – were opposed, the basic racial hierarchy in which whites held managerial and supervisory positions, and no black was placed in authority over a white, was largely accepted and certainly not seriously challenged.

Black women workers suffered even more exploitation than men. If they could find employment, it was likely to be in the fields of domestic servants or as farm labourers, where they were appallingly badly paid. In industry, wages were not much better; but the worst feature for women was the lack of employment opportunities.

At least until major skilled labour shortages became evident in the late 1960s, proposals to increase training of black workers were dismissed in the words of a then President of the Federated Chamber of Industries as “not…a serious possibility” (E.R.Savage quoted in Davies, 1979, p 340). Indeed, a failure by businesses to seriously contemplate this possibility in the apparent belief that cheap black labour would be available for ever has left a legacy that impedes efforts to grow the economy today. The backlogs in education and skills training must be recognised as a product of past discrimination and deliberate policy which challenges business to co-operate with government in defining an appropriate skills enhancement strategy today.

3. Business and the Trade Unions

In the previous section, we indicated how during the early years of apartheid administration, historically privileged business at least passively endorsed the wave of repression launched by the regime against trade unions representing black workers. Little sign of protest was evident from business as the regime set out systematically to “bleed the black trade unions to death”. On the contrary, we showed that the dominant reaction was to respond opportunistically by holding down wages of black workers. During the 1960s real wages for black workers stagnated, and for almost ten years strikes were virtually unheard of. This was a product of the extensive repression of the 1960s, and one which business welcomed.

A major issue we believe needs to be confronted is the attitude of business to the re-surgence of trade union organisation by black workers after 1973. 1973 saw mass strikes erupting spontaneously in Durban among construction workers, textile workers and municipal workers. These strikes eventually involved 60.000 workers, and for the first time in many years black workers won some small wage increases through strike action. Following the Durban strikes, many other strikes occurred. In many cases, these were responded to by cooperation between employers and police aimed at crushing strikes forcefully, and even violently. For example, police action against strikes by miners at Anglo American’s Western Deep mines resulted in the death of 12 miners.

After these events, the rebuilding of the progressive trade union movement gathered momentum. Unions were established in all major centres. Although these unions were not illegal, and focused on factory floor issues, 26 individuals associated with the emerging unions were subjected to five year banning orders in November 1976.

The emerging unions adopted a strategy of fighting for recognition at company level. Most companies, however, proved to be extremely reluctant to grant recognition. As late as 1979, even after labour legislation had been changed, emerging unions were recognised at only 4 factories. Most employers preferred to cooperate with the state in promoting dummy works and liaison committees as alternatives to unions. In 1978 there were over 2.000 liaison and 300 works committees in existence countrywide.

The 1976 Soweto uprising did, however, force both the state and employers to rethink their strategies. The leaders of the apartheid state began to realise that they would have to combine reforms with repression to retain control. It was in this context that the government appointed Professor Nic Wiehahn to investigate the country’s labour laws in 1977. The Wiehahn Commission recommended recognition of the right of African workers to form and belong to trade unions in order to bring unions representing African workers inside the official system of control.

Government proposed legislation providing for recognition, but which would prevent unions recruiting migrant workers and prohibiting racially “mixed” unions. Some of the emergent unions chose to register, others to register on condition they were granted “non-racial” recognition and others chose not to register at all.

The end of the 1970s and early 1980s saw the emergence of militant “community” unionism and political action by unions. Consumer boycotts of products, increased strike action and stayaways took place. Again, employer cooperation with government in resisting these developments was commonplace.

Unions in the “homelands” suffered the worst repression. SAAWU was banned by the Ciskei government, under whose rule most of its members lived. Its leadership was repeatedly detained, harassed and tortured. East London employers collaborated with this repression and steadfastly refused recognition in the factories.

Despite organisational and political differences, the emerging unions all saw the need for greater unity. Union unity talks took place between 1981 and 1985. Within months of the first round of unity talks, one of its participants, FCWU/AFCWU organiser Neil Aggett died while in police custody.

Unions inimical to democracy and which could be used as tools of employers and the state, came into being.

Repression runs like a thread through the union movement’s history. COSATU was born into a state of emergency, and for most of its first four-and-a-half years it operated under emergency rule. Concerted efforts to destroy unions failed, largely because of their organised shop floor strength. In the process, however, many unionists lost their lives, others were seriously injured, driven into exile, imprisoned or mentally scarred. Tens of thousands of workers were dismissed by employers for union activity, many of them being deported to rural areas or neighbouring states.

Almost from the moment of its birth, COSATU was declared a restricted organisation in terms of emergency regulations. Banning of gatherings severely hampered it. From 1985 to 1989 indoor meetings which advocated work stoppages or stayaways were also banned. Defiance of these regulations led to running battles with the security forces who violently dispersed workers. Many workers were killed, injured or detained for attending “illegal gatherings”.

A massive strike wave accompanied COSATU’s launch. In January 1986, at four Impala platinum mines in Bophutatswana, 30.000 workers went on strike demanding better wages and conditions. The company refused to talk to the NUM and dismissed 23.000 workers. The dismissals were a combined operation between mine security and the Bophutatswana police equipped with riot gear and teargas.

Mine companies maintained heavily armed private security forces and showed no hesitation in calling on police and army units to assist them. The mine strikes of early 1986 saw many miners killed and injured. Some mineworkers were detained resulting in a strike on three Vaal Reef”s shafts.

As indicated earlier, COSATU was born into a state of emergency. Nearly 8.000 people were detained under the first state of emergency, and during the second emergency 2.700 unionists were detained. Detentions were not the only form of harassment during the emergencies. Union offices were raided, members intimidated and the smooth running of unions disrupted.

Unions were targeted by the National Security Management System (NSMS) created in the mid-1980s. The State Security Council (SSC) was continually fed with information on unions from local Joint Management Centres (JMCs). Representation on JMCs extended beyond the state security organs, including inter alia members of the business community, who must therefore have been involved in passing on intelligence about unions to the state.

In addition the “Stratkom” wing of the Security Branch usually dealt with operations affecting trades unions. These operations, according to the scheme of things and as with other related activities, were coordinated by the NSMS. Such operations ranged from murders, disappearances/abductions to the theft of trade union subscriptions leading to a disruption of union activities and accusations of corruption between union officials (the so-called “double effect”).

Workers in many workplaces protested against the visible repression by state and employers. Militant CCAWUSA members on the Witwatersrand at almost 100 shops downed tools demanding the release of union leaders. After police detained five members of the NUM’s regional executive, almost 2.000 miners at four of De Beer’s Kimberley diamond mines stopped work.

Strikes reached new heights in 1987. The first national strike took place at OK, indirectly owned by Anglo American. Employer intransigence was a common thread. The strike lasted 77 days and ended only after lengthy mediation had produced a negotiated agreement. The public sector showed even greater intransigence by management. The dismissal of a SATS worker led to one of the largest strikes in the country. As a result of this strike 10 workers were killed, many imprisoned, 4 sentenced to death and the state launched a sustained attack on COSATU. COSATU House was destroyed in a bomb blast, for which the apartheid state has now acknowledged responsibility.

Draft changes to the Labour Relations Act were published in September 1987. These proposals sought to increase controls over unions. First, they proposed restricting the right to strike. Second, they attempted to reverse many of the unions’ concrete gains on issues like job security. Third, they aimed to cower the labour movement with the threat of awarding punitive damages to employers for strike action.

While the campaign against this Bill was gathering momentum, the state once again took action. On February 24 1988, the government effectively banned 17 organisations. At the same time, far reaching restrictions were imposed on COSATU, effectively banning its “political” activities.

The campaign over the draft LRA led to the first steps being taken by employers to reach agreement with unions on national legislation. Following negotiations, an accord was reached between COSATU, NACTU and SACCOLA (an employers’ coordinating body) on amendments to the Bill, which served as the basis of negotiations with government. Following this, there were other instances where groups of employers engaged in dialogue with unions at national level, as well as with other sections of the liberation movement.

While we recognise that historically privileged business’ attitude towards trade unions representing black workers has evolved over time, we nevertheless believe it is important to record that the role of business during much of the apartheid period was one of cooperation with the state authorities in taking measures to undermine and crush trades unions. At decisive moments in the re-emergence of the democratic movement, business’ initial reaction was invariably one of opposition, victimisation of activists and union officials, and recourse to the regime’s security forces. The first reaction to a strike, or attempt by unions to organise workers, was all to often to call in the police. Many violations of human rights occurred as a consequence. That trade unions survived was due entirely to the strong organisation and commitment of thousands of workers, despite the suffering and sacrifices endured. That the attitude of business towards the unions changed over time is, in our view, largely due to the fact that through determined struggle and at great cost, the black workers established themselves as a force that could not be either eliminated through repression or ignored.

4. Business Beneficiaries of State Patronage

It is our contention that the historically privileged business community as a whole must accept and acknowledge that its current position in the economy, its wealth, power and access to high income and status positions are the product, in part at least, of discrimination and oppression directed against the black majority. While some of the important business organisations and groups opposed some of the laws introduced by successive apartheid governments, a number of core discriminatory laws were both actively sought and tolerated by business. Historically privileged business as a whole must, therefore, accept a degree of co-responsibility for its role in sustaining the apartheid system of discrimination and oppression over many years.

Particular sections of business were, moreover, especially favoured by the apartheid regime. What are now powerful corporations like Sanlam, Rembrandt and Volkskas were closely associated with the National Party and benefitted directly from specific state support after the NP came to power in 1948. The history of Sanlam is, indeed, inextricably interlinked with that of the National Party. It was established in 1918 by the same individuals who founded the National Party in the Cape. Volkskas was founded by the Afrikaner Broederbond in 1934, and as the Broederbond’s official history, published in 1979, admitted all its directors were until that year at least appointed by the Bond (O’Meara, 1983, p 102).

These companies experienced spectacular economic growth after the coming to power of the National Party in 1948. Sanlam’s and Volkskas’ assets were valued at R 30 million each in 1948. By 1981 Sanlam’s own declared total assets stood at R 3,1 billion, while companies over which it exercised effective control had assets worth R 19,3 billion. Volkskas’ assets in the same year were R 5,1 billion (Davies, O’Meara, Dlamini, 1985, pp 70 -80)..

The awarding of government contracts to and placing of government and local authority bank accounts with these companies was critical to this rapid accumulation. But the relationship between these companies and the apartheid state went far beyond this. There was a close strategic partnership between the leaders of these corporations and the top decision-makers in the apartheid state. Management staff regularly passed to and fro between the corporations and parastatals.

The top leadership of Sanlam, Volkskas and Rembrandt were key players in both the National Party and the Afrikaner Broederbond. They were the close confidantes and advisers of political leaders of the apartheid state. Although both Sanlam and Rembrandt became associated with the so-called verligte wing of the National Party, the differences they had with verkramptes in the party were not over whether, but rather over how best, to maintain control by the apartheid regime and with it minority white economic privilege. The relationship between these corporations and the regime became particularly close during P.W.Botha’s term as head of government. The corporations worked closely with the military in designing the “total strategy”. They were also prominently involved in developing the apartheid state’s military capacity. Less transparent, but of critical importance in establishing the truth about our past, is the role they may have played in the implementation of the “total strategy” – with the gross violations of human rights associated with this.

Organisations like the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut and white commercial farmers groupings also had close connections with successive apartheid regimes. White commercial farmers formed an important constituent base of the National Party. An extensive system of state support and subsidy was established and maintained under apartheid. There was often very little distinction between parastatals and organisations set up by farmers themselves. Cooperatives played the role of control boards and assets accumulated through the exercise of their public (control board) function were often used for private benefit by cooperatives.

Much more significant was the role of white commercial agriculture in soliciting state support and condonence of widespread and systematic abuses of black farmworkers’ rights over many years. The “tot system”, use of prison labour, assaults and even murders that went unpunished are well known. As indicated earlier, historically privileged commercial farmers bear, in our view, a large measure of responsibility for the large scale forced removals of “surplus people” that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s.

We call on the various business organisations that were intimately associated with the apartheid regime (only some of which have been mentioned in this submission) to acknowledge the role which they played in devising, at various stages, strategies associated with apartheid – be they socio-economic or repressive and discriminatory measures directed at labour or black competitors. We believe, too, that they should be willing to accept that the assets and wealth that they hold today are the product, in part at least, of particular support, assistance and indeed patronage they received from successive minority governments. We call on them, finally, to come forward and account for their role in the implementation of particular measures, like forced removals, the Group Areas Act and the “Total Strategy”.

5. Business and the Militarisation of South Africa

The last two-and-a-half decades of apartheid rule saw the increasing militarisation of our society. Many private sector companies benefited greatly from this. With the accession to power of P.W.Botha in 1978, the “total strategy” became the guiding vision of government. One of the first priorities that P.W.Botha set for himself was the winning over of the private sector to this vision.

The Carlton Conference, held in 1979, introduced leading business personalities to the government’s new strategy, which included the maxim that the struggle was 20% military and 80% social, political and economic. Business was called upon to play its economic role within this integrated strategy. Leading business personalities were flattered by this attention, and Harry Oppenheimer declared that the conference was the beginning of a “new era”.

However, the apartheid government did not leave matters there. Over the coming decade the collaboration between the apartheid war machine and the private sector was to be increasingly institutionalised. This institutionalisation occurred on at least four fronts:

  • through the production of arms and other military equipment, under the general coordination of Armscor;
  • through the National Security Management System with its regional and Joint Management Committees;
  • through the Defence Manpower Liaison Committee (Demalcom); and
  • through the National Keypoints process, which helped privatise repression.

i. Armscor

Business’ active collaboration in the production and acquisition of military equipment for the apartheid war machine increased significantly after 1977, the year in which the UN Security Council imposed a mandatory arms embargo on South Africa. In that year, Armscor, which had been established in 1964 to manufacture arms, was merged with the Armaments Board, which had been responsible for purchasing arms abroad and maintaining cost control. The revamped Armscor was given overall responsibility for armaments production and procurement. Its total assets rose from R 200 million to R 1,2 billion between 1974 and 1980 (Davies, O’Meara and Dlamini, 1985, p 104).

Central to Armscor’s strategy was the forging of a strong strategic partnership with important forces in the privileged business sector. Leading business personalities were invited to serve on, and accepted, important positions in armaments related structures, particularly after P.W.Botha’s accession to power as head of government in 1978. In 1979, senior Barlow Rand executive, John Maree, was seconded by his company to serve for three years as Armscor’s executive Vice-Chair. The same company’s chairperson, Mike Rosholt, became a member of the Defence Advisory Board in 1980. Also serving on the Board at various stages during the 1980s were such business luminaries as Anglo American chairperson, Gavin Relly; Johannesburg Stock Exchange President, Richard Lurie and the President of the South African Agricultural Union, Jaap Wilkens .

Although Armscor itself became a large player, with subsidiaries responsible for the manufacture of weapons, ammunition, pyro-technical products, aircraft, electro-optics, naval craft and missiles, its preferred modus operandi was to contract out as much as possible to private companies. Many private sector companies became involved. Owing to the secrecy of these activities not all the facts are known. In 1987, Armscor’s chief executive referred to 975 companies directly supplying Armscor (Business Day, 21/9/1987). This implied a much larger number of sub-contractors. One researcher suggested that in 1983 Armscor was distributing work to some 1.200 private contractors and sub-contractors, and that at least 400 companies were dependent for their survival on Armscor contracts (S.Ratcliffe cited by G.Simpson in Cock and Nathan, 1989, P223). In 1988 another researcher estimated that the number of private sector sub-contractors to Armscor had grown to 3.000 (Grundy, 1988).

Whatever the precise figures, it is clear that hundreds and probably thousands of South African private sector companies made the decision to collaborate actively with the apartheid war machine. This was no reluctant decision imposed on them by coercive apartheid legislation. Many businesses, including subsidiaries of leading corporations, became willing collaborators in the creation of the apartheid war machine, which was responsible for many deaths and violations of human rights both inside and outside the borders of our country. It was, moreover, an extremely profitable decision. Billions of Rands of taxpayers’ money, channelled through secret defence accounts, subsidised hundreds of private sector companies. Cost effectiveness was not a central issue. Secrecy and the ability to deliver large quantities of the required materials were the pre-eminent criteria.

The parasitism of many of these local private sector companies went further than this. Despite boastful claims to the contrary, many of the local private sector corporations were not involved in the genuine development of these war materials. They were more often useful conduits for foreign technologies, helping the apartheid state to evade the UN arms embargo. Local private sector corporations often worked with foreign holding companies or subsidiaries. Local private companies, on behalf of the apartheid state, also used the loophole of “dual purpose” products (products that had both a civilian and military application), pretending that the products were being imported for civilian use.

There are many examples of this kind of operation. Barlow Rand, one of the leading industrial groups in our country, was heavily implicated. To take one example: In 1977 Barlow Rand bought a 50% stake in the British-owned General Electric Company (South Africa). Included in this deal was Marconi (South Africa), a long standing major supplier of radar and communications equipment to the SADF, but then feeling the heat of the UK government and UK public anti-apartheid opinion. This kind of deal enabled the overseas companies to take pressure off themselves in terms of mandatory UN arms sanctions, while enabling the apartheid regime to have continued access to high tech products under the guise of their being “locally produced” or even “locally developed” (references to Barlow Rand from “The Electronic Back Door: A brief case history on the involvement of Barlow Rand in the South African Military-Industrial Complex”, Resister, 41, December 1985 and G.Simpson in Cock and Nathan, 1989).

ii. The National Security Management System

The NSMS was another key institutional inter-face between the apartheid war machine and the historically privileged business sector. Elaborated in the second half of the 1980s, the NSMS structures were integral to the whole “repressive-reform” strategy of the apartheid government at the time.

As Major-General Wandrag, head of counter insurgency in the SAP, explained:

“The only way to render the enemy powerless is to nip the revolution in the bud by ensuring that there is no fertile soil in which the seeds of revolution can germinate” (ISSUP Review, October 1985, p 15).

The NSMS structures identified “oil spot” townships, in which they hoped to launch “elite” development projects that would help build a buffer social stratum amongst black township dwellers. Lacking sufficient resources for the “oil spot” programme the military was anxious to draw in the private sector.

Many in the private sector were happy to oblige. Fred du Plessis, chairperson of Sanlam, and a leading advisor to P.W.Botha, spoke in 1988 of the necessity of delivering certain economic benefits to key sectors in the black community, in order to distract black people from their political aspirations. He spoke of “…a situation where people ten years from now feel things are going so much better for them that they do not feel anxious about political power” (Business International, 1988).

Leading business personalities and corporations shared the Total Strategy ideology with the regime, and supported the notion of “repressive reforms” that were integral to it. The institutional co-option of the private sector was particularly a feature at the local level, in the Joint Management Committees (JMCs).

The Port Elizabeth community liaison forum, working under the Port Elizabeth mini-JMC, provides some idea of the functioning of the system. Apart from key SADF and SAP command structures, there were 27 members of the forum from the private sector, including the Master Builders’ Association, Assocom, the Midland Chamber of Industries, the Port Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Corporation, the Afrikaanse Sakekamer and the NGK.

The major decision of the forum appears to have been the construction of a “major sports centre at Kwadwesi – a new prestige neighbourhood”. The focus on a “prestige” black neighbourhood, in a city racked with high levels of unemployment and poverty, was typical of the NSMS orientation (information on the NSMS and PE liaison forum from K.Phillip in Cock and Nathan, 1989).

iii. The Defence Manpower Liaison Committee (Demalcom) and Conscription

Until 1982 the SADF and the business sector discussed strategic issues around “manpower utilisation” in the Defence Advisory Council. This body was then replaced by the Defence Manpower Liaison Committee, whose task was to “promote communication and mutual understanding between the SADF and Commerce and Industry with regard to a common source of Manpower” (Defence White Paper, 1982). In addition to the personnel from the various arms of the SADF, 21 employers’ organisations were represented on the Committee.

Similar Committees were established at provincial and regional level. The Johannesburg Committee included representatives from the SADF’s Witwatersrand Command, the Randburg Commando, the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce, the Johannesburg City Council, the Randburg Town Council and Chamber of Commerce, the Transvaal Chamber of Industries, the Security Association of South Africa, the Engineers’ Association of South Africa, the Institute of Bankers, the Anglo American Corporation, and others.

These Committees dealt with a range of issues eg.

    • they planned conscription intakes
    • they drew up guidelines for companies regarding staff conscripted into the SADF.
    • the Committees were involved in the State’s attempts to control labour; in particular labour involvement in the liberation struggle.

“We put everything under the hat of labour. The brain drain, labour unrest, stayaways – so, for example, we would go to the organised sector and say, ‘You can expect trouble on the following days’ – say, for example, on the 16th (that’s a bad day to pick!) – to give them time to adjust, and pre-empt unnecessary hardship and firings, by giving clear guidelines to workers. It could be a small business – he doesn’t read the papers, he’s not aware – so by warning him, he can buy stock early, make sure his salesmen aren’t on the road, and so on.” (Col. Du Toit, Chairperson of the Johannesburg Committee quoted in Cawthra, 1986).

  • The Committees provided the cover for the involvement of the SADF in Township development.

Again Col. Du Toit:

“The support of the private sector is given in the form of allowing us to use the expertise and knowledge that they have so much of. The idea is not to look for funds from them, because that’s not on, but to get them to appreciate that we need their expertise. One way of getting such expertise is by conscripting it, and some skilled conscripts have been called up and placed in ostensibly civilian positions where their skills are needed. So for example, the army is involved in Alex, then they would call up an engineer, and say to him, ‘You are going to work in Alex for such-and-such a company’ I’m not going to say a name. Then the army would use his technical skills in this way. In the building trade, this approach has been very successful. These guys don’t wear uniforms, they just work in the company, and they are credited with their call-ups.” [ibid]

  • The Committees were given intelligence briefings “to place controversial subjects into the “correct perspective”.

Following Demalcom guidelines, companies began topping up the low salaries paid to national servicemen. Many continued to pay full salaries to their conscripted staff. Some also paid employees who volunteered for extra military duty. Companies thus facilitated conscription, and their payments amounted to a large subsidy for the SADF. They also gave their staff paid time off during commando service.

One researcher, writing in 1988, estimated that “most private companies currently do this, and …one fifth continue to pay full salaries” – even though there was no legal obligation to do so (Phillip in Cock and Nathan, 1989, p 211).

iv. National Key Points – the privatisation of repression

The National Key Points Act of 1980 created another network of collaboration between the apartheid security forces and the private sector.

Moving the second reading of the National Keypoints Bill, the apartheid Deputy Minister of Defence, said:

“At the moment the Republic of South Africa finds itself in the midst of an unconventional war which up to now has been of relatively low intensity. However, it may be expected that in the future the terrorists onslaughts will increase both in frequency and intensity….The private sector is in the front line of a terrorist onslaught. The enemy threatening us can best be combated by a calm and determined Government, public and business community…” (Hansard, 12 June 1980)

Hundreds of installations and areas were designated as National Keypoints in terms of the legislation including mines, power stations, oil refineries and various factories. Owners were required to provide and pay for security as well as set up security Committees jointly with the SADF which included recommended private security consultants. Provision had to be made for the storage of arms on the premises.

The effect of this legislation was:

  • to shift some of the financial burden and responsibility for “national security” onto the private sector, releasing apartheid security forces for other activities; and
  • to create, as the Financial Mail pointed out at the time, a “multi-million rand bonanza” for the private security industry. By 1983, the private security industry had an annual turnover of R 1.000 million, and comprised over 500 companies (Phillip in Cock and Nathan, 1989, p 213).

The required appointment of private security consultants, and the use of private security companies to guard national keypoints led to the integration of state and private sector security companies with a uniform security strategy. The militarisation of South African security companies is evident to this day. Many senior personnel from the state’s security establishment joined private companies on retirement.

White employees and occasionally “reliable blacks” were organised into industrial commandos attached to industrial plants, groups of factories or industrial areas. Training and deployment was undertaken jointly by management and the SADF.

Publication of information on keypoints was prohibited, and subsidiaries were even prohibited from informing parent companies that their installation had been declared a keypoint. Other legislation prevented many private sector companies from providing information about trading partners, sources of supply, production, etc.

To Sum Up: While the growing militarisation of our society in the late 1970s and through the 1980s constituted a huge drain on resources, thousands of private sector companies were happy to reap profitable private benefits for themselves. No doubt there were disadvantages for the private sector as a result of the increasing conscription of white males, and the growing need to spend large sums of money on company security. Despite occasional complaints about such “irritations”, the track record of the private sector in the growing militarisation of South Africa through the 1980s was generally one of greedy collaboration.

Craig Williamson told the TRC special hearings on security forces that privileged business was more than willing to provide logistical support for the regime’s covert operations. He said covert units never had any trouble obtaining from private sector suppliers equipment needed in covert operations, including “unconventional” supplies such as false credit cards.

What is more, leading personalities from the business community played a proactive role in the process of militarisation. Many of them helped to elaborate and propagate the “repressive reform” ideology that underpinned militarisation and its guiding philosophy – the total strategy.

We call on the business community both to acknowledge its role in the militarisation of our country, and to indicate precisely what relationship it had with covert units of the apartheid state responsible for gross violations of human rights.

6. Business and the Apartheid Nuclear Weapons and CBW Programme

The secret nuclear weapons programme undertaken by the apartheid regime would not have been possible to implement without the direct participation of business.

In 1975 the ANC alerted the international community to Pretoria’s intention to build nuclear weapons and its attempts to acquire the relevant technology. The ANC’s document, “The Nuclear Conspiracy” (annexed), provides information on the regime’s intentions as well as documenting some of the international collaboration in the nuclear programme. Further information was provided to the United Nations including evidence that the regime considered it “safe” to use tactical nuclear weapons in the region.

Though denying our evidence at the time, the apartheid government admitted in 1993 that it had built nuclear weapons (“devices”) and tried to focus attention and gain credit through its decision to dismantle these.

The ANC calls on the TRC to establish who took the decision to build these weapons and what were the intentions on their use. We further request the TRC to investigate the culpability of the many South African companies and scientists who participated in this heinous programme

It is widely recognised that South Africa under apartheid was also involved in clandestinely developing both a chemical and biological warfare capacity, as well as a missiledelivery system for that purpose. As part of these activities, the SADF established a number of front companies such as Delta (G) Scientific and Roodeplaat Research Laboratories, amongst others, which were privatised prior to the 1994 elections. The extent of business involvement in such programmes remains an open question that needs further investigation. It has also been revealed that while the programme had largely a defensive capacity, there was an offensive aspect which was allegedly utilised against anti-apartheid opponents as well as some neighbouring states.

7. Business and Sanctions Busting

South African and international companies were involved in breaking the oil embargo and the laws of a number of countries. National and multinational companies continued to supply fuel to the SADF notwithstanding protests from their shareholders (international) and representations from the ANC. They justified their actions by claiming they were forced to do so by the laws of South Africa.

Much of the corruption and lack of morality that prevail in our country today owes its origin to these practices and other covert activities of state agencies as well as systematic sanctions busting by business interests promoted and assisted by the regime through secrecy provisions and legal protection provided to those who violated the laws of other countries. State agencies, commercial and financial institutions were involved, as well as international criminals who were often welcomed and given sanctuary in South Africa.

Multinational corporations participated with South African companies in all the activities to which we have referred. Rarely did they voluntarily dissociate themselves from involvement in apartheid. Among the notable exceptions are the Volvo Group in Sweden and Wates Construction in the UK.

Under pressure to disinvest from their shareholders and anti-apartheid movements in their home bases, other companies justified their continued involvement on the grounds that staying in South Africa helped black South Africans. They did not address what they could do to stop being drawn into the repressive state machinery deployed to defend apartheid.

Responding to these arguments, the late President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, said in May 1987.

“It is difficult for us to accept the argument of business both inside and outside the country that it is politically impotent. Business has chosen, until now, to align itself with and benefit from the economic and military state that is part of the apartheid system. With apartheid universally condemned and disinvestment and sanctions vigorously resisted, international business has turned to justify its presence by promising to provide so-called neutral support in the form of black education, housing and welfare…the issue is not simply about black education, housing or welfare, notwithstanding that these are grossly neglected by the apartheid State. The point is that such neutral support will always be compromised by the apartheid system (and)… such neutral support will further enmesh international business in the apartheid system….It has become far more urgent that they define their political alignment. This, necessarily, means that corporations have to distance themselves from and resist the short term pressures that lock them into Pretoria’s embrace. It is our firm view that the true interests of the business community lie not in continuing to identify with a system doomed to disappear, but to relate to the forces for change which are destined to take charge of the socio-economic life of a non-racial, democratic South Africa. Such a perspective is, in our view, the only way to peace, stability and progress not only in South Africa but the entire Southern African region”

8. Business’ Role in Seeking a Negotiated Settlement

In previous sections of this submission, we indicated how during the early years of the Botha government close ties of collaboration were forged between important sections of the privileged business community and the apartheid regime. The “reformed apartheid” project and the “total strategy” of P.W.Botha attracted a good deal of support from business circles that reached beyond the historical support base of the National Party.

It should be noted that the bottom line of P.W. Botha’s “reformed apartheid” remained throughout an unwillingness to contemplate any move beyond racial minority rule. Every reform introduced by Botha was intended to shore up rather than undermine minority rule, and when reforms failed to produce a new support base in the black community the regime fell back on repression.

Despite business’ retrospective claims that it was always at the cutting edge in seeking democratic reform in South Africa, there was, in fact, a good deal of common ground between leading business circles and the Botha regime over the ultimate objective in seeking “reforms” that would draw historically oppressed communities into a new political dispensation while at the same time preserving ultimate control by the white minority.

Former Anglo American Corporation chairperson, Gavin Relly, is on record pronouncing himself “not in favour of one-man, one-vote in South Africa”, because that “would simply be a formula for unadulterated chaos at this point in time in our history.” (quoted in Kanfer, 1993, p 347). Anton Rupert of Rembrandt said in 1981, “After many African countries became free they got dictators like [Idi] Amin’s. We have to find a solution that won’t end up giving us one man one vote.” (quoted in O’Meara ,1996, p.187). And the doyen of corporate South Africa, Harry Oppenheimer, told “Business International” in 1980,

“Since we’re not going to get the Nationalists out of power so quickly – much as I’d like to see the Progressive Federal Party come in – one has got to find a means of doing social justice in a way that the reasonable people in the National Party might go for. This does shut out going for one man one vote in a unitary state, although clearly one’s got to go for one man (sic) one vote in some form. I used to be very keen on a qualified franchise, but it’s no longer practical. I think therefore one should go for everybody voting in some sort of federal society. We have to go to look for our salvation to that fascinating business of constitution making” (quoted in O’Meara, 1996, p 187).

As argued in section 5 above, the years immediately following P.W.Botha’s accession to power saw an unprecedented level of practical cooperation between business and the apartheid regime at a number of levels, including over the militarisation of our society. The 1979 Good Hope and 1981 Carlton conferences appeared to have had the effect of winning over many leading business personalities. Mr Harry Oppenheimer, said at the Good Hope conference that he saw “greater reason for real hope in the future of the country than I have felt in many years” (quoted in O’Meara, 1996, p 294). Business personalities from outside the ranks of the historic support base of the National Party accepted being drawn in to a range of advisory bodies and parastatals and commentators spoke of the Botha regime resting on an alliance between business and the military.

We acknowledge that this began to change in the mid-1980s when the combined pressures of mass action and international isolation made Botha’s project of reformed apartheid unworkable. In the context of a deepening political crisis that was beginning to take a real toll on the economy, a number of important leaders from the historically privileged business community began to “break ranks” and contemplate a negotiated settlement that reached beyond the parameters of “reformed apartheid” some time before politicians from the ruling party were willing to do the same. We regard this as a positive development in the history of our country, and believe that the visits to meet with the ANC in Lusaka and elsewhere as well as the various “post-apartheid’ conference and scenario activities initiated by business in the late 1980s on balance contributed to an eventual democratic settlement in our country.

At the same time, we believe that it is important that an accurate account emerges of this process. The Botha regime’s rejection of pressures to negotiate an acceptable transition to democratic rule in 1985 was followed by the imposition of states of emergencies, the escalation of assassination campaigns against anti-apartheid activists within the country and abroad and further destabilisation of neighbouring countries. It was during this period that some of the gravest violations of human rights occurred. While significant groupings within historically privileged business began to grope towards the idea of a negotiated democratic transition, considerable vacillation was evident and leading personalities from major corporations continued simultaneously to give a degree of political support to the Botha regime’s states of emergencies.

It is our view that until the latter part of 1984, relations between historically privileged business and the Botha regime remained generally warm. When “reformed apartheid” appeared to be viable, it attracted a good deal of support from business circles. The campaign for a ‘Yes Vote’ in the November 1983 referendum on the proposals to establish the tri-cameral system was enthusiastically supported by many corporate leaders. The Nkomati Accord signed with Mozambique in March 1984, whose principal objective from the South African government side was to secure the expulsion of the ANC from Mozambique and Mozambique’s subjection to South African hegemony, was also warmly welcomed. Many leading business personalities were invited to the Nkomati ceremony, and a number of these expressed both support for the political objectives of the Botha regime in Southern Africa and an interest in exploring the possibilities of themselves becoming involved in “making the new relationship work”. Typical of the mood of the time was the following statement by the Chief Executive of Assocom. In April 1984, he said,

“Most businessmen today – in the aftermath of the Nkomati Accord…stand closer to the Prime Minister’s goal than ever before” (The Star, 25/4/1984).

It was only as the regime’s incapacity, firstly, to resolve the worsening domestic crisis and, secondly, to capitalise on the Nkomati Accord, became evident that relations began to become strained. Some signs of such strain were evident in November 1984 when the arrest of trade unionists involved in the ‘stay away’ strike of that month led six leading business organisations to submit a memorandum complaining that the regime’s heavy-handed action was threatening to undermine industrial relations. The same month also saw expressions of disquiet at the regime’s double dealing with Mozambique – which was confirmed a few months later when the “Gorongosa documents” captured at Renamo headquarters showed beyond any doubt that SADF support for Renamo’s armed campaign had continued despite the Nkomati Accord.

By the beginning of 1985, serious criticism was also being voiced of the handling of the deepening fiscal crisis of the apartheid state. In January 1985, The Star summed up the views of leading businessmen on this as follows:

“For the first time in the country’s long history the feeling is increasingly growing that things have got out of hand and that the government – in the visible form of [Finance Minister] Mr du Plessis – simply has no answers…”

Talk of the end of the ‘spirit of Carlton and Good Hope’ began to be common and by mid-1985 a variety of ‘plans’ and ‘programmes’ for a ‘settlement’ began to emerge from business circles. P.W. Botha’s ‘Rubicon Speech’ of August 15th 1985 provoked a major rupture. The Sunday Star wrote:

“Business leaders who normally support President Botha were ‘shattered’ by his speech…His speech, watched by millions globally, ended any remaining cosiness between business and the government, built up after the Carlton and Good Hope conferences…”

On September 13 1985, a group of leading business personalities travelled to Zambia to meet with the leadership of the ANC. The delegation included Gavin Relly, Chairman of Anglo American; Tony Bloom, Chairman of Premier Milling and Zach de Beer of Johannesburg Consolidated Investments. This meeting took place despite strictures from Mr Botha about ‘disloyalty’ and went a long way to establishing recognition within the then dominant minority community of the reality that there could be no solution to the crisis of legitimacy that excluded the organisations of the historically oppressed.

The ANC welcomes and acknowledges the fact that business broke ranks with the Botha regime in this way, and believes that it contributed to creating a climate within the privileged minority community more receptive to genuine, inclusive negotiation. At the same time, we feel obliged to point out that in the mid-1980s this break was not yet absolute. Much of the negative reaction to the Rubicon speech was because it was feared (rightly in the event) that it would provoke an international reaction that would harm business. This materialised in the form of the refusal by foreign banks to “roll over” South Africa’s international debt. The Reserve Bank, however, intervened and secured a debt standstill agreement. Although this imposed a tight repayment schedule, it did succeed in avoiding the devastating consequences that would have followed had the foreign banks insisted on immediate repayment. At the same time, the Botha regime’s states of emergencies appeared towards the end of 1986 and 1987 to be reducing the level of mass action against the regime. In this context, and at least until the cyclical downswing of late 1988 and events in Cuito Cuanavale, the immediate threat appeared to recede. Seeking change appeared, in this context, to have become a less urgent priority and a partial return to “business as usual” became evident between 1986 and 1988.

In this context, prominent forces in the historically privileged business community gave open support to government’s imposition of a country wide state of emergency in June 1986. By early 1987, 30.000 activists had been detained. Numerous reports of torture, murder and security force abuses had emerged despite restrictions on reporting of “unrest”. Nevertheless, Gavin Relly in his 1987 Anglo American Chairman’s Annual Statement said,

“The imposition of the State of Emergency last year, and its recent renewal, though regrettable, were necessary …It would be foolish to pretend that communities exposed to violence have not benefitted…or to deny that many South Africans prefer a state of affairs in which their attention is not drawn constantly to the realities of the nation’s problems” (Anglo American Corporation, 1987, p 2).

Trust Bank, in an otherwise generally depressed review of the economy in October 1988 said:

“The 60 percent increase in South Africa’s security expenditure over the past two years was clearly essential in the circumstances. In fact, the damper put on socio-political instability by the security forces has definitely played a role in the recently improved performance of the economy.”

While acknowledging and appreciating the positive role of business in initiating a move towards seeking a negotiated democratic settlement, we nevertheless call on business to acknowledge that it provided a degree of political support for repressive measures that formed the legal cloak for many gross violations of human rights in the late 1980s. We regard it as a particularly serious indictment that at a time when probably the most serious violations of human rights in our country’s history were occurring, business leaders not only refrained from making any significant protest but were indeed prepared to endorse to some degree the ongoing repression. We believe that it is not just the foot soldiers of apartheid that need to accept responsibility for its crimes, but also the political leadership and the captains of industry whose acts or omissions created the climate that made those crimes possible.

9. Business and Violence in KwaZulu-Natal

The violence that erupted in various parts of our country both before and after the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations is a matter of deep concern to all those with the interests of our country at heart. The ANC has long maintained that the roots of much of the so-called “black on black” violence can be traced back to “third force” elements operating in the apartheid state’s security forces. We acknowledge that the business community has at various stages of our transition, and particularly after 1990, participated in conflict resolution and other peace initiatives. The ANC appreciates these efforts. At the same time, we feel obliged to indicate that a number of attempts by the ANC and Mass Democratic Movement to involve business in peace initiatives did not at critical moments result in an adequate response.

We are also concerned about a number of allegations made over the years about business support for JMC and covert operations units of the apartheid security forces in KwaZulu Natal. Among others we believe it is important to establish the relationship between business and JMCs/covert unit structures in the following cases:

  • At Mooi River at the time of the outbreak of violence in the township and at the Mooi River Textiles factory in 1990;
  • at BTR SARMCOL in Howick and RBM at Richards Bay and Empangeni; and
  • The circumstances under which Tongaat Hullet rented out the farm Waterloo in the Verulam area to security force agents. The body of murdered activist, Phumezo Mgxiweni, was unearthed on this farm by the TRC earlier this year. At the time, ANC MP, Blade Nzimande, referred to the unusual circumstances under which the farm had been leased and called for a full investigation into the role of Tongaat Hullet in this.

10. Conclusions

We have argued in this submission that the historically privileged business community was a beneficiary of a system in which white privilege and black oppression were the two sides of the same coin. We have tried to show that for many years after 1960 historically privileged business as a whole, as well as particular parts thereof, remained involved in varying degrees in the active promotion of discriminatory measures as well as continuing to benefit from those introduced in earlier periods. It was not just laws and regulations imposed by the apartheid state, but business’ own discriminatory practices that contributed to the creation of the highly skewed distribution of income, wealth and opportunity that we are forced to grapple with today. It is also our contention that significant sections of the privileged business community, reaching well beyond the traditional support base of the ruling NP, actively collaborated in promoting the programmes and policies associated with the Botha government’s “total strategy”. Not only were important business leaders and corporations actively involved in the militarisation, but gave a degree of political support to repressive measures and acts of military aggression implemented by the apartheid state.

We readily concede that not all of the measures of apartheid were sought by business. We also acknowledge that as the apartheid system became increasingly dysfunctional to business from the mid-1980s onwards, a number of historically privileged business organisations (including some of those close to the then ruling party) began to grapple for solutions that reached beyond the parameters apartheid political leaders were then prepared to contemplate. The role which a number of leading business personalities and organisations played in promoting dialogue and negotiation at the end of the 1980s, we judge to have been a positive contribution to bringing about a transition to democracy in our country. This cannot, however, detract from the reality of a record of extensive collaboration by business with a system involved in gross violations of human rights.

We make a plea to business to confront its past, not as an exercise in historical debate. We believe that acknowledging past injustices is the key to reconciliation. Specifically we believe that the acknowledgements we have called for in this submission should be a spur to action. We call on historically privileged business organisations to recognise that genuine reconciliation requires addressing the inequalities, inequities and developmental backlogs that the system of discrimination, from which they benefitted in varying degrees, has left as the heritage of our new democratic order. If these hearings produce a new commitment on the part of business to work together with government and other stakeholders to overcome problems of inequality and underdevelopment, they will, in our view, have been worthwhile.


Anglo American Corporation (1987), Chairman’s Statement, Johannesburg.

Asmal, Kader, Louise Asmal and Ronald Suresh Roberts (1996), Reconciliation through Truth: A Reckoning of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance, Claremont, David Phillips.

Business International (1988), Apartheid and Business, London.

Cawthra, Gavin (1986), Brutal Force: The Apartheid War Machine, London, International Defence and Aid Fund.

Cock, Jacklyn and Laurie Nathan (ed) (1989), War and Society: The Militarisation of South Africa, Cape Town, David Phillip.

Davies, Robert (1979), Capital, State and White Labour in South Africa 1900-1960, Brighton, Harvester Press.

Davies, Robert, Dan O’Meara and Sipho Dlamini (1985), The Struggle for South Africa: A Reference Guide to Movements, Organisations and Institutions Vol 1, London, Zed Books.

Defence White Paper, 1982, Pretoria.

Grundy, Kenneth (1988), The Militarisation of South African Politics, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Kanfer, Stefan, (1993) , The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds and the World, London, Hodder and Stoughton.

O’Meara, Dan (1983), Volkskapitalisme: Class, capital and ideology in the development of Afrikaner Nationalism 1934-1948, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

O’Meara, Dan (1996), Forty Lost Years: The Apartheid State and the Politics of the National Party, 1948-1994, Quadrangle, Athens, Ohio University Press.

Webster, Eddie (1983), “Background to the Supply and Control of Labour in the Goldmines” in E.Webster (ed), Essays in Southern African Labour History, Johannesburg, Ravan Press.

Wilson, Francis (1972), Labour in the South African Goldmining Industry, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Periodical Publications:

Business Day
Financial Mail
Hansard House of Assembly Debates
Issup (Institute of Strategic Studies University of Pretoria) Review
The Star
Weekly Mail and Guardian