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Gore-Mbeki Commission: Eyewitness to America betraying Mandela’s South Africa

December 22, 2013

Part I

by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo

At the dawn of the Nelson Mandela administration, I had the extraordinary privilege to sit at the table with the new African National Congress leadership as the Environmental Protection Agency-White House liaison to the Mandela government. My job was to work with the new ANC leadership to design and provide U.S. technical environmental expertise to assist the majority population’s recovery from the environmental and public health disaster the apartheid system imposed on it.

Gore, Mandela, Mbeki Cape Town 021799 by Molly Bingham, White House
U.S. Vice President Al Gore meets with South African President Nelson Mandela and Vice President Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town on Feb. 17, 1999. – Photo: Molly Bingham, White House
This process took place through the flagship foreign policy vehicle, the U.S.-South African BiNational Commission commonly called the Gore-Mbeki Commission or the BNC. All bilateral foreign policy activities between the U.S. and South Africa took place through this commission. A detailed account of these events can be found in my book: “No FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA.”

As a graduate student and professor, I had been an anti-apartheid activist who marched with my colleagues in the Southern Africa Support Project (SASP) and TransAfrica in front of the South African Embassy to “Free Mandela” and to express our solidarity with the South African revolution. When I was offered the position of executive secretary to the BNC in 1995, I made it clear to the EPA – citing racist U.S. foreign policy in other African countries – that I would not be a part of any diabolical scheme against the South African people.

I was a supporter of the South African Freedom Charter and excited about helping the Mandela government implement environmental policies that would reverse decades of harmful and at times fatal policies towards the Black majority. Soon after assuming my position I realized that something had gone terribly wrong. In a 1996 letter to my mentor, Professor Noam Chomsky, I wrote: “The Freedom Charter is not on the table. I’m heartbroken to report that despite the blood sacrifice of so many activists, South Africa is entering a neo-colonial phase.”

In a 1996 letter to my mentor, Professor Noam Chomsky, I wrote: “The Freedom Charter is not on the table. I’m heartbroken to report that despite the blood sacrifice of so many activists, South Africa is entering a neo-colonial phase.”

Vice President Al Gore said of the BNC: “I affirm that the people of the United States of America are committed to the strongest possible partnership with the citizens of South Africa.” His counterpart, Thabo Mbeki, then deputy president of South Africa, proclaimed that he appreciated “this relationship of support and engagement for creating a better life for the people of this country.”

'NO FEAR A Whistleblower's Triumph Over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA' coverAt the time, CNN’s description of aspects of BNC’s mission was closer to the truth: A further goal of the BNC was to hold regular trade talks and cooperate in the fight against international terrorism.

There was a stark difference between the stated goals of the BNC and U.S. political strategy. It would become evident that the functional goal of the environment committee of the BiNational Commission was to provide cover for the same U.S. multinational corporations that had participated in the repression of South Africa during apartheid. Under a green banner, they were seeking to continue the previous relationship with Afrikaner leaders they had enjoyed while Nelson Mandela languished in prison for three decades.

I was the U.S. official to whom the first reports of illness and death relating to vanadium mining were given by Black South African union leaders and later by the new environmental leadership in the Nelson Mandela government. The U.S. ignored these reports, choosing to protect American-owned multinational corporations that were operating in South Africa. The reports included symptomology of miners whose tongues were turning green: bronchitis, asthma, bleeding from bodily orifices, impotence in young, healthy male workers, cancers and ultimately death.

Despite the BNC agreeing to send a team of experts from the United States to investigate these horrible reports, no serious investigation ever occurred. Every attempt to convene an independent team of medical doctors was thwarted by EPA management. Instead, the EPA dispatched a single veterinarian to care for its new Black African partners, as the United States focused its serious efforts and resources on developing private-sector projects.

Under a green banner, they were seeking to continue the previous relationship with Afrikaner leaders they had enjoyed while Nelson Mandela languished in prison for three decades.

The United States had been a faithful ally of the racist apartheid regime. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher considered the ANC a terrorist organization and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. However, the saturated media coverage of the death of Nelson Mandela has missed another important relationship between the United States and Mandela – the fact that, according to The New York Times, there was a “CIA Tie Reported in Mandela Arrest”:

“The Central Intelligence Agency played an important role in the arrest in 1962 of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress leader who was jailed for nearly 28 years before his release four months ago, a news report says.

“The intelligence service, using an agent inside the African National Congress, provided South African security officials with precise information about Mr. Mandela’s activities that enabled the police to arrest him, said the account by the Cox News Service.

“The report, scheduled for publication on Sunday, quoted an unidentified retired official who said that a senior CIA officer told him shortly after Mandela’s arrest: ‘We have turned Mandela over to the South African Security branch. We gave them every detail, what he would be wearing, the time of day, just where he would be.”

The United States had been a faithful ally of the racist apartheid regime. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher considered the ANC a terrorist organization and called Nelson Mandela a terrorist.

By 1996 U.S. policy had not changed from the Reagan administration – but the PR and public statements did, in response to growing U.S. public outcries from the anti-apartheid movement and international human rights groups. Still, behind the scenes and in agencies like the EPA, the U.S. role was business as usual.

As flowers adorn the front of the statue of Mandela at the South African embassy, it is worth noting that the statue was paid for by the same corporate concerns that supported Mandela’s incarceration, including the Anglo American Corp., the South African Mining Group, South Africa’s Synthetic Fuels, the chemicals giant Sasol, the South African Gold Coin Exchange and Standard Bank. These corporate co-conspirators think they can fool us with plaques, devotionals and crocodile tears.

Part II

Nelson Mandela, Bantu Holomisa
Former South African Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Gen. Bantu Holomisa (right), now a member of Parliament and president of the United Democratic Movement, wrote a tribute to Mandela published Dec. 12 by the Johannesburg Financial Times. In it, he emphasizes Mandela’s refusal to take a back seat to any world leader: “(H)e would not hesitate to pick up the phone and directly confront F.W. de Klerk or Pik Botha” … “when he spoke to President Bush, he spoke in his usual style of ‘instructing’” … “the word ‘request’ was not in his vocabulary; most of the time he got what he wanted.”
As the executive secretary for the Gore-Mbeki Commission Environment Committee, I sat at the negotiating table while the newly elected government of Nelson Mandela formulated its environmental policies. This position provided a unique vantage point for an African-American woman who had marched in front of the South African embassy against apartheid.

I was privy to both the U.S. and South African dialogues. I observed that EPA managers felt a solidarity with white Afrikaner officials and were suspicious of the new African National Congress leadership. From conversations with colleagues from other departments, I learned that this EPA-Afrikaner solidarity was widespread. The U.S. was giving lip service to the Mandela government while back channeling support to the old-guard Afrikaner hard-liners.

From that perspective in 1998, it was hard to see how the horrific economic situation in South Africa would be any different with the U.S. and the global community fighting to maintain the status quo. Today, largely owing to the success of having bolstered the status quo, there is a 50 percent unemployment rate among African youth, white families possess five times the income of Black families, multinational corporate control of the economy and the mining sector continues as does African economic disenfranchisement and, most notably, the Freedom Charter has been abandoned.

The U.S. was giving lip service to the Mandela government while back channeling support to the old-guard Afrikaner hard-liners.

I observed former South African Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs Gen. Bantu Holomisa and his predecessor, the late Deputy Minister Peter Mokaba, valiantly resist U.S. determination to re-define the goals of the Gore-Mbeki Commission from one of humanitarian assistance to a private sector feeding frenzy. In public meetings, the U.S. EPA was most accommodating, but behind closed doors a different strategy was in play.

Today, largely owing to the success of having bolstered the status quo, there is a 50 percent unemployment rate among African youth, white families possess five times the income of Black families, multinational corporate control of the economy and the mining sector continues as does African economic disenfranchisement and, most notably, the Freedom Charter has been abandoned.

Although I was the executive secretary of the environment committee, EPA – without my knowledge – dispatched a white EPA official to South Africa to consult with former apartheid leaders and to enlist their help in opening markets to the U.S. private sector. The EPA official, in an unclassified memo, lays out the problems posed by Black officials of the South African Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT) concerning EPA’s private sector proposal:

“As you are aware, DEAT (ANC) officials have been resistant to the co-operative agreements we have signed with the U.S. Environmental Training Institute … They have raised concerns that the involvement of the U.S. private sector in these programs threatens the development of South Africa’s fledgling environmental industry and would do more to increase U.S. exports than achieve South African environmental and economic goals.”

Youths at Freedom Charter demonstration Soweto 1986 by Paul Weinberg
Youth in Soweto rally in support of the Freedom Charter in 1986, when the anti-apartheid movement was front page news worldwide yet such rallies could be life-threatening. – Photo: Paul Weinberg
The memo indicates that EPA through back channels had contacted Afrikaners still operating inside the Environment Department (per a negotiated agreement) and requested guidance as to how to proceed. The memo also informed EPA that whites inside the department had been identified who would work with U.S. officials to advance U.S. economic interests.

The paternal relationship between the U.S. and the minority whites in South Africa was still operational, although forced underground in the immediate aftermath of South Africa’s independence. An EPA official was dispatched to South Africa to collude with Afrikaners and develop a strategy to pressure the new Mandela government to open its economy to U.S. environmental industries. This information was confirmed in court testimony during my 2000 trial, in which I prevailed, Carol Browner v. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo 2000.

A sympathetic colleague observing the fireworks between me and the agency on its back channel dealings with former apartheid officials anonymously slid a document under my office door. I had not been copied on it. The memo stated that a colleague and I were not in support of EPA’s back channel dealings with apartheid era holdovers – clearly signaling that we could not be trusted with sensitive information and that we would oppose efforts by the U.S. government to pressure South Africa to accept unfavorable private sector programs.

Recall that Gore-Mbeki was supposed to provide humanitarian assistance: “Kathy Washington and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo have expressed concerns that moving ahead with these programs outside the Gore-Mbeki framework could undercut other work they are planning with DEAT under Gore-Mbeki.”

An EPA official was dispatched to South Africa to collude with Afrikaners and develop a strategy to pressure the new Mandela government to open its economy to U.S. environmental industries.

Despite concerns voiced by the ANC that they opposed U.S. private sector initiatives, the EPA sent officials to South Africa to strategize with Afrikaner old guards still operating inside the Mandela government and devised a plan to impose pressure points from both inside the South African government and outside from the U.S.

EPA was not operating in isolation from the U.S. and the global community. The goal was to strengthen the long-term allies of the U.S. government, namely the white holdovers from the apartheid regime, and to seek “friendly” allies within the new ANC government that might be amenable to U.S. economic – and ultimately their personal – interests.

What tragic challenge confronted the ANC as they attempted to implement the Freedom Charter immediately post-independence?

“Want to redistribute land? Impossible – at the last minute, the negotiators agreed to add a clause to the new constitution that protects all private property, making land reform virtually impossible. Want to create jobs for millions of unemployed workers? Can’t – hundreds of factories were actually about to close because the ANC had signed on to the GATT, the precursor to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which made it illegal to subsidize the auto plants and textile factories. Want to get free AIDS drugs to the townships? That violates an intellectual property rights commitment under the WTO, which the ANC joined with no public debate as a continuation of the GATT,” wrote Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

Despite concerns voiced by the ANC that they opposed U.S. private sector initiatives, the EPA sent officials to South Africa to strategize with Afrikaner old guards still operating inside the Mandela government and devised a plan to impose pressure points from both inside the South African government and outside from the U.S.

The ANC had been trapped through its commitments to international monetary organizations whose goals were in complete opposition to the Freedom Charter. The South African Freedom Charter – penned by thousands of South Africans under the vicious oppression of white supremacy – expressed the deepest goals and visions of a new South Africa. Adopted on June 26, 1955, at the Congress of the People, the Freedom Charter begins with the declaration: “The People Shall Govern!” The declaration demands:

“The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth – The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people, the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.

“The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It! Restrictions and land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger.”

The ANC had been trapped through its commitments to international monetary organizations whose goals were in complete opposition to the Freedom Charter.

Mandela must have understood the difference between fighting a national liberation struggle and fighting the forces of global capital. Had he attempted to implement the Freedom Charter, he would have had a target on his back and his name would still be on the U.S. terrorist list. Mandela and his colleagues were aware that moving forward to implement the Charter would be considered an act of aggression against global capital.

Had he attempted to implement the Freedom Charter, he would have had a target on his back and his name would still be on the U.S. terrorist list. Mandela and his colleagues were aware that moving forward to implement the Charter would be considered an act of aggression against global capital.

They decided to adopt neo-liberal economic policies that have exploded the inequalities within South Africa. In fact, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, signaling a complete surrender to the demands of global capital, referred to himself as a “Thatcherite” – identifying himself with the conservative economic policies of former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was a critic of Mandela and the ANC.

It is hoped that with the passing of Mandela, a new generation of Black South Africans will re-commit to the spirit and implementation of the Freedom Charter’s declaration: “The People Shall Govern.” Without a re-distribution of wealth and the nationalization of the banking and mining sectors, poverty among Black people will continue to spiral out of control and another generation of Black South Africans will continue to suffer exploitation as cheap labor.

It is hoped that with the passing of Mandela, a new generation of Black South Africans will re-commit to the spirit and implementation of the Freedom Charter’s declaration: “The People Shall Govern.”

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
For my part, I blew the whistle on the EPA looking the other way while a U.S. multinational corporation subjected South African vanadium mine workers to lethal working conditions. Anything less would have betrayed the blood sacrifice of countless everyday people who gave their lives for freedom in South Africa.

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of “No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA,” which is available through amazon.com and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a U.S. multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha’s successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is director of transparency and accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet. Part I and Part II of this story previously appeared on BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

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One thought on “Gore-Mbeki Commission: Eyewitness to America betraying Mandela’s South Africa

  1. @HenriLeRiche

    Sadly the South Africa of 2013, is not the same South Africa Nelson Mandela stepped down from in 1995.__Today it's a mirror image of the old white racist government. Now it's black, nationalist and racist. __Wonder where's all the voices now?__ Now black racism is at the order of the day, the silence is deafening…__Maybe listen to what FW de Klerk and Tutu has to say….___ _http://news.iafrica.com/sa/891307.html___http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=483732&sn=Marketingweb+detail__

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