Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fifty-Two Witnesses Present Testimony during Four Days of Hearings

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Fifty-Two Witnesses Present Testimony during Four Days of Hearings

Article excerpt

Fifty-two witnesses present testimony during four days of hearings

During the four days of public hearings, 52 persons presented a variety of views on the role of TNCs in South Africa and Namibia. They included representatives of Governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses in and outside South Africa, anti-apartheid groups and liberation movements, parliamentarians, civic leaders, labour unionists, churchmen and individuals with particular knowledge of South Africa and its economic relationships. Testimony was made orally and in writing.

The witnesses were unanimous in their condemnation of apartheid and the occupation of Namibia and recognized that both had to be brought to an end as soon as possible. Views differed, however, on how those two objectives could best be achieved. Material presented to the Panel indicated that the situation in South Africa and Namibia had deteriorated over the past few years. Particular concern was expressed regarding South Africa's decision to deprive most of the country's black population of South African citizenship.

According to some, the industrialization process and the modernizing of the economy by TNCs would, in the long run, erode the apartheid system. TNCs, some maintained, provided employment opportunities for black workers, often improved their welfare through desegregation, did away with discriminatory practices in the workplace, and improved opportunities for the advancement of black workers. It was suggested that any international action taken against TNCs in South Africa or Namibia would have an immediate adverse impact on the black population as well, particularly that portion employed by TNCs. Neighbouring States would also face some difficulties.

Others pointed out that the same processes of involvement by TNCs sustained in apartheid system and the occupation of Namibia, directly and indirectly. By providing capital and technology, TNCs benefited and strengthened the minority regime and provided it with the resources to enforce apartheid. Transnational banks provided the economy with financial resources, while taxes paid by all foreign entities assisted in maintaining the military, police and security forces used to enforce apartheid and the occupation of Namibia. Whatever benefits employment with TNCs offered, less than 5 per cent of the black labour force was affected. In any case, the amelioration of employment conditions for black workers had not changed the system of apartheid as such. Neighbouring States had publicly and collectively announced that they were willing to share with black South Africans the burden of eliminating apartheid.

Following are summaries of a sampling of testimony presented to the Panel:

Wolfram Kistner, Senior Director of Justice and Society for the South African Council of Churches, said that during the 1950s and 1960s, TNCs had tolerated repression and had even called upon the South African police during labour unrest. During the 1970s talk of reform began. While only a small number of blacks benefited from those reforms, neither repression nor the security laws had been abandoned. The use of repression and reform by TNCs was a strategy for preserving the status quo.

Asked whether the TNCs were integral to or alien from the South African community, Mr. Kistner said that the TNCs were oppressive in so far as their presence helped maintain apartheid. As for profits and the need to obtain credit from foreign banks, Mr. Kistner said TNCs had profited from the "homeland' system, which provided them with a pool of cheap labour.

United States Congressman Mickey Leland said South Africa's economic health "relied heavily on foreign investment'. The presence of TNCs strengthened those who enforced apartheid. Although its $14 billion in South Africa represented only 1 per cent of all United States investment abroad, that investment carried "great symbolic weight' in the South African economy. …

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