Jubilee Plus - Supporting Economic Justice Campaigns Worldwide

Image Map
About Us
Jubilee Movement International
Finanance / Economics
World News
Media Centre
International Campaigns
Data Bank
Free Nelson Mandela - and all southern Africans - from the chains of debt

Joseph Hanlon, 7 April 1998

Nelson Mandela is free from prison but not from debt. President Mandela and all of the people of southern Africa are paying the cost of keeping him in prison. Children not yet born when he was freed from Robben Island will not go to school so that southern Africa can pay the apartheid debt.

Apartheid wrought vast destruction across the region; now it is time to rebuild. In a remarkable spirit of reconciliation, the people of southern Africa want to forgive the horrors of the past and look forward.

But the banks, international financial institutions, and individual countries which lent to both sides in the apartheid war will not forgive. They are demanding repayment.

The victims of apartheid should not pay its bills.

Paying twice for apartheid

The apartheid regime defended itself not only by oppressing its own people, but by suppressing the people of the neighbouring states as well. It waged a full scale war against Mozambique and Angola, made raids into all the neighbouring states, and imposed an economic blockade on Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

The suffering was immense. This was a war against ordinary people, in which schools and health posts were primary targets and civilians were massacred on buses and trains. At least two million Mozambicans and Angolans died in the war South Africa waged against them; millions more had to flee their homes.

The arrogant white leaders of apartheid South Africa believed that if the people of the region suffered enough, they would tell their governments to stop opposing apartheid. But the people of the Front Line States remained solid with their brothers and sisters in South Africa; they backed sanctions and provided covert support for the opposition.

Apartheid ended because of the joint efforts of South Africans themselves, the people of the region, and all those in Europe who supported sanctions and put pressure on the governments to oppose apartheid.

But the people of southern Africa paid a terrible price in blood and suffering. A whole generation of Mozambicans, Angolans, and South Africans never went to school because of apartheid. Mothers and children died because the apartheid state destroyed health centres in Mozambique, or never built them in South Africa itself.

Apartheid is ended, Mandela is free, sanctions are finished. But the people of the region cannot celebrate, because they are being asked to pay a second time for apartheid.

Making Mozambique poor

Apartheid destabilisation made Mozambique the poorest country in the world, and the most indebted country in Africa. South Africa's war of destabilisation cost Mozambique more than 11 billion in damage and lost production. In an attempt to smash Mozambique's economy, South Africa targeted exports - sugar mills, tea processing factories, sawmills, and mines were blown up, burned, or simply ransacked.

South Africa also imposed sanctions on Mozambique, sharply reducing use of the port of Maputo and cutting the number of migrant miners, which significantly reduced Mozambique's earnings.

This was a war of terror - South Africa wanted to make Mozambicans afraid to use the newly built health and education system. Hospital patients, including mothers who had just given birth, were massacred in their beds. School pupils and teachers were kidnapped. Half of all hospitals and schools were destroyed or closed.

Faced with a sudden loss of income and a need to protect its people, Mozambique had to buy oil, arms and other goods on credit. Money was borrowed for development projects that were later destroyed or seriously damaged in South Africa attacks, including railways, electricity lines, and a major textile mill.

Mozambique borrowed 4.5 bn because of apartheid. International agencies like the IMF and World Bank, as well as bilateral creditors, have agreed to write off some of Mozambique's debt. But they still insist Mozambique pay back part of the apartheid-caused debt.

Mozambique has been forced to delay the introduction of universal primary education until 2010 because of a lack of money - because money is being diverted to repay the apartheid-caused debt.

In the 1980s children did not go to school because apartheid destroyed their schools and kidnapped their teachers. In the 21st century, Mozambican children will not go to school in order to repay money their parents and grandparents borrowed to defend themselves against apartheid. Is this just?

Attacking transport

The bridge over the Zambezi River is one of the longest in Africa and once carried the railway from Malawi to the port of Beira in Mozambique. South African commandos blew up the bridge, as well as many smaller ones. South African backed guerrillas used slave labour - working only with their bare hands - to physically destroy 30 miles of railway line near Inhaminga in Mozambique. Five years after the end of the war, this railway is still closed; Mozambique has no money to repair it.

South Africa cut both of Malawi's links to the sea. Imports and exports had to travel an extra 1000 miles, via South Africa. The cost to Malawi was catastrophic. As well as human suffering, Malawi had to borrow more than 700 mn to pay the extra costs of having to feed its people.

One rail link to the sea has been reopened. Malawi's new democratic government is trying to redress the heritage of the 30-year Banda dictatorship and the cost of the apartheid blockade. But Malawi's n it is "odious" and need not be repaid. In 1982, lawyers working for United States banks warned that loans to white South Africa could be considered "odious" and might not be repaid.

"In 1973 the United Nations began to describe apartheid as a crime against humanity. Nevertheless, the international financial community ... continued to make loans," said the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Reverend Njongonkulu Ndungane, speaking at Southwark Cathedral on 24 April 1997. "As we approach the new millennium, the time has come to invoke the Doctrine of Odious Debt. ... In the case of South Africa, its foreign and domestic debt was incurred, by and large, under the apartheid regime, and should ... be declared odious and written off."

After other wars

The World Bank and IMF have proposed the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative, under which the poorest countries will have written off some of the debt they can never pay in any case. In southern Africa, this will affect Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. These countries are expected to make debt repayments of at least 20% of their export earnings, which means they will continue to make payments at the same level as at present.

After World War I, the victorious powers demanded that Germany make reparations payments of less than 15% of its exports and this was considered so excessive that it restricted Germany's post-war rebuilding and was seen as an important cause of World War II. This view was accepted by the allies who negotiated a new debt repayment agreement with Germany in London in 1952 which required Germany to pay only 3.5% of exports. Similarly, in order to allow Britain to rebuild, in the 1945 the United States agreed that British debt repayments should be limited to 4% of exports.

In both cases, it was argued that Europeans needed to spend money on post-war reconstruction rather than debt repayments. Yet now, the international community wants southern Africa to make massive debt repayments instead of rebuilding. Why should Mozambique or Malawi be asked to pay five times as much as Britain and Germany? South Africa is not even considered "heavily indebted" by the international community, yet in 1996 it paid 12% of export earnings in debt service.

The allies were not giving charity to Germany in 1952. They wanted Germany to be able to rebuild and not to go back to war. Yet these same allies - and Germany - want South Africa and Zambia to make debt repayments at a higher level than the unacceptable German war reparations.

Break the chains of debt

The poor of southern Africa are saddled with 28 billion in "Apartheid-caused debt". That is the 11.3 billion that South Africa borrowed to maintain apartheid, and the 16.6 billion that the neighbouring states borrowed to defend against apartheid destabilisation and aggression. This is 210 for every woman, man and child in southern Africa.

SADC executive secretary Kaire Mbuende said: "There is no good reason why the debt of these states should not be written off." The debt burden is diverting funds from development, he said, and retarding the SADC programme of regional integration; the international community should just write off the debt of the SADC states.

The people of southern Africa fought for decades to end apartheid; millions died or were made homeless. Apartheid has ended and the people of southern Africa want to rebuild. Instead, we are asking them to pay for apartheid destabilisation. Children who were not even born when Nelson Mandela was released from prison are more likely to die, and if they survive, are more likely never to go to school, so their parents can pay the apartheid debt. This is immoral and unjust. Nelson Mandela and the people of southern Africa are free from prison and war, but they are still chained by debt. We still need to free Nelson Mandela and all the people of southern Africa.

Cost of Apartheid


mn mn
South Africa11,345