Big names join campaign

Prominent South Africans have joined a campaign to scrap the apartheid debt before the millennium, says Jubilee 2000 organiser Neville Gabriel

South Africa is to launch a massive campaign next month to scrap the apartheid debt before the millenium.

As part of an international Jubilee 2000 coalition, South African communities and civil society will aim to celebrate the new millennium by calling for the scrapping of the unpayable debt of poor countries on a case by case basis.

The Jubilee 2000 campaign was launched in Africa in Accra in April 1998, with a call to civil society organisations to establish national Jubilee 2000 coalitions throughout the continent.

The launch of Jubilee 2000 South Africa carries an additional call to scrap the national apartheid debt in South Africa and the Southern African regional apartheid-caused debt.

Apartheid was denounced as a crime against humanity. However, the servicing of the apartheid debt forces victims of apartheid to pay twice over for their suffering. Today’s efforts to recover from apartheid are being obstructed by the R39 billion that has been set aside in the national budget to pay the debt interest alone – a large percentage of this figure is apartheid incurred debt.

Jubilee 2000 makes a strong humanitarian case for scrapping of the debt – it is estimated that the lives of 400 Zambian babies and children would be saved each year if money used to service the debt could be ploughed into health instead.

The global financial crisis has also given impetus to Jubilee 2000. The Washington Post reported last week that “when new governments try to implement sounder policies, the burden of debt blocks any progress and contributes to a vicious circle.”

The rich and powerful countries have cancelled and ignored debts before, mainly for narrow political purposes. Britain still owes the United States Treasury over R60 billion for money borrowed during the first World War – their last payment was in 1934.

And while Britain continues to cripple Third World economies through interest repayments, Jubilee 2000 International has estimated that the country could afford to scrap the total R70 billion debt owed to them for a figure as small as R12 per British taxpayer per year.

Democratic South Africa has shown the way in debt cancellation by scrapping the odious debts of Namibia incurred under South African occupation without imposing adjustments on its neighbour and without concern for whether the cancellation could be afforded.

The launching of the campaign in South Africa on November 5th, 1998 has gathered momentum with a number of high-profile patrons adding their voices to the call to scrap the apartheid debt.

Uniting people across religious barriers, the campaign has been publicly supported by Archbishop Ndungane, Prof Fatima Meer, Archbishop Denis Hurley, Imam Rashid Omar, Ms Yasmin Sooka, Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, Rev Charity Majiza and many other South Africans.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a patron of the international Jubilee 2000 campaign, signed the international petition last week in Washington while the World Bank and IMF meetings were taking place. He was joined by Muhammad Ali, Lenny Henry, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said last week that “the wealthy nations could write off African debt without even noticing it economically.” Talking about the debt burden, he said that “Africa spends twice as much paying debts to creditors than it does on basic health care. The burden of paying debts of the part is stamping out hope for the future.”

The first of the G7 countries, Canada, also made a call for the total cancellation of all debt in Africa a few days ago. Both Canada and Britain are pushing for much deeper debt relief than is offered by the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) World Bank/IMF initiative.

Even international business now recognises that demanding full repayment of debt can be an enormous mistake. Business Week stated yesterday that we should learn from history’s mistakes where the claiming of war reparations “helped create the conditions that bred the Great Depression and World War II”.

Neville Gabriel, Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), October 20, 1998

Categories: Africa, Odious Debts, South Africa

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