The new South African ‘pass laws’ require robust corporate response

south africa

Back when folks were fighting for the independence of the different splinter countries that had been carved out of Africa primarily by the Otto Von Bismarck convoked Berlin Conference of 1884, Africans saw Africa as the continent of good people who had been done in by colonialists. The people needed to take back what was theirs which had been despoiled by the marauding activities of colonialists. A lot of truth to that, yes. Every people should have control of their lives, their land and their destiny.

Before independence, cooperation amongst the oppressed people of Africa was pan African, literally from Cape to Cairo. Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt was as prominent in the movement as was Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, as was Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, as was Patrice Lumumba of Congo, as was Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, as were Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. Not only were they action oriented, but they were larger than life characters whose reflective philosophies and broad minded take on African liberation underpinned the struggle.

Long after the independence of most African nations, however, Namibia (then known as South West Africa), Zimbabwe and South Africa in the southern part of the continent were still in the vise grip of colonialists. In all three cases, however, it was not just outside forces, but internal ones, foreigners who had settled in both countries declaring independence and staving off majority black rule. In Namibia’s case, it had been handed over to South Africa by the League of Nations in 1915 and they held on until SWAPO led by Sam Nujoma was able to wrest their country from RSA in 1990.

Ten years before Namibia’s independence, (the recently deceased) Robert Gabriel Mugabe, alongside Joshua Nkomo and others had finally, after years of guerilla warfare, secured independence for Zimbabwe, then known as Rhodesia. Everyone recalls with some measure of nostalgia Bob Marley’s hit track ‘Zimbabwe’ that was performed at that grand euphoric independence ceremony. The affirmative and declarative lyrics remain the country’s soundtrack in the minds of freedom cherishing Africans:

Every man got the right to decide his own destiny

And in this judgment there is no partiality

So arm in arm, with arms

We’ll fight this little struggle Cause that’s the only way we can Overcome our little trouble Brother, you’re right, you’re right You’re right, you’re right, you’re so right

We go fight,

We’ll have to fight

We gonna fight

Fight for our rights

Fight over, Zimbabwe was declared winner. Namibia was next in 1990. The only holdover was South Africa which was still under white minority rule. The white settlers had gotten independence from Britain in 1934, but this government was in no

way representative of the make-up of the country. In fact, in 1958, a year after Ghana’s independence was when Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd introduced the Grand Apartheid policy which effectively made Blacks in South Africa the hewers of wood and drawers of water. This, in their own native land.

Initially, in view of countries all fighting their own independence, not many had the time to spearhead South Africa’s position. But after the countries began achieving self-rule, the focus turned full blast on the beautiful country of South Africa. Some countries bordering or quite close to the country formed a loose but effective alliance known as the Frontline States. It was made up of Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. To this distinguished list was added the name of Nigeria, for its financial, moral and material support for the cause even though it’s a long way away from the actual theatre of struggle.

Africans supported South Africa, through the Sharpeville Massacre of 1961 where 69 people were killed at a police station who went to protest against the pass laws enacted to restrict the flow of Black South Africans to urban areas. Why were the blacks making their move to the towns? For the proverbial greener pastures that were hardly accessible in the rural areas. Not that they were in abundance in the townships. But more, at least.

That’s the African story today. By a vicious combination of bad leadership, colonial overhang, and a wandering mindset occasioned by instability, Africans are looking for greener pastures. Everywhere. Despite being one of the richest continents by virtue of natural resources, unending kleptomania from without and within  has kept the continent perennially impoverished. That is why Africans run.

By the African extended family system, we help our own, knowing that seasons shift. One day, we who help might need to be helped. And the ones we helped might be the ones to plug the gap. That is where South Africa is right now. The guys who spearheaded the fight for freedom were all in exile in some of these frontline countries at some point or the other. African countries gave them buffer for the time when they needed to be away from the heat so they could launch proper projectiles, metaphorically, against the white minority rule.

But let’s not forget that while African countries did their bit, with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu in the trenches and eventually in the gulag, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu and co and all those heroes from the Africa National Congress, ANC fought from their different podiums, it was the economic squeeze (or is it sneeze) from big western corporates that ensured apartheid caught the fatal cold. But it was not something that happened in one day. The West was stridently opposed to sanctions and to disinvestment in South Africa. That, of course, for its own reasons. But the liberal voices kept shouting and making sure that their voices resonated. The system eventually shifted because the economic arguments were unassailable. It was clear that apartheid was unsustainable. And so gradually, they started disinvesting.

“Richard Wright, quoted in Wikipedia, writes that anti-apartheid movement in the U.S. found that Washington was unwilling to get involved in economically isolating South Africa. The movement responded by organized lobbying of individual businesses and institutional investors to end their involvement with or investments in the apartheid state as a matter of corporate social responsibility. This campaign was coordinated by several faith-based institutional investors eventually leading to the creation of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. An array of celebrities, including singer Paul Simon, also participated.

“The key instrument of this campaign was the so-called Sullivan Principles, authored by and named after the Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan. Leon Sullivan was an African-american preacher in Philadelphia who, in 1977, was also a board member of the corporate giant General Motors. At that time, General Motors was the largest employer of blacks in South Africa. The principles required that the corporation ensure that all employees are treated equally and in an integrated environment, both in and outside the workplace, and regardless of race, as a condition of doing business. These principles directly conflicted with the mandated racial discrimination and segregation policies of apartheid-era South Africa, thus making it impossible for businesses adopting the Sullivan Principles to continue doing business there.

While the anti-apartheid movement lobbied individual businesses to adopt and comply with the Sullivan Principles, the movement opened an additional front with the institutional investors. Besides advocating that institutional investors withdraw any direct investments in South African-based companies, anti-apartheid activists also lobbied for the divestment from all U.s.-based companies having South African interests who had not yet themselves adopted the Sullivan Principles. The institutional investors such as public pension funds were the most susceptible to these types of lobbying efforts.

Public companies with South Africa interests were thus confronted on two levels: First, shareholder resolutions were submitted by concerned stockholders who, admitted, posed more of a threat to the often cherished corporate reputations than to the stock price. Second, the companies were presented with the significant financial threat whereby one or more of their major institutional investors decides to withdraw their investments”

The above scenario was one of the highest displays of corporate social responsibility on record: the private sector forcing the state to do right. The giant corporate organisations of the day all voted with their feet: Coca Cola, IMB, Eastman Kodak, General Electric, General Motors, Barclays, etc.

And while the rest of Africa does not have the critical mass with regards to investments in South Africa, South Africa is heavily invested on the continent and thus pressure can be brought to bear on the country using the vehicles of the Organised Private Sector, AU, ECOWAS and other regional bodies to advocate and effect compliance with policies so formulated.

The call for nationalization of South African assets is an antediluvian response, clearly. That it is coming from Adams Oshiomhole, a dyed in the wool unionist whose time in government has helped his true leanings, mean we should not be up for consideration by considerate economies not suffering from myopia.

With 2017 GDP figures of $376.284bn and $349.299bn respectively, Nigeria and South Africa are the two biggest economies on the continent. Efforts should be made to increase rather than constrict the economic growth which Africa so sorely needs. One expects African captains of industry to take this all the way to the United Nations should South Africa remain recalcitrant in its wanton killing of fellow Africans seeking refuge or engaged in economic activities in RSA. As Julius Malema has said time and again, let the law take its course against proven criminals, But self-hate hideously and barbarically executed by Blacks on Blacks should be condemned by all.

The days of pass laws are long over. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights Article 12 outlines various forms of movement related freedoms. It asserts: Every individual shall have the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of a State provided he abides by the law.

That is all the South African State needs to prove and apply. Let this law apply so that we can sing in harmony with Bob Marley

Africa unite,

Cos we’re moving right out of Babylon

And we’re going to our father’s land

South Africa is Africa. All Africans should feel at home there as they should anywhere else on the continent, as long as they abide by the law.