Letter: US Appeals Court Rejects Apartheid Cases


Dear Ed

US Appeals Court Rejects Apartheid Cases Against Ford, IBM 27 July 2015 refers

I write this letter in regard to the latest finding by the 2nd Circuit concerning the prominent role played by IBM information technology in the foundation of the apartheid regime. In particular, I wish to draw your readers’ attention to the tragic use of IBM technology in the management of population data and labour control, which has echoes in Nazi Germany.

The German ‘Extermination by Labour’ campaign depended upon specially designed IBM systems – the ‘custom-designed prisoner-tracking’ Hollerith punch card equipment which allowed the Nazis to efficiently manage hundreds of concentration camps and sub-camps throughout Europe.

Edwin Black’s ‘IBM and the Holocaust’ published in 2001, details these three-part IBM Hollerith machines leased to Nazi Germany and which involved a system of paper forms, punch cards and processing machines.

The technology allowed for the centralisation of sorting, tabulating and printing of documents used in the management and assignment of compulsory work, slave labour, and finally euthanasia.

Similar equipment leased to the apartheid regime by IBM was used to process black labour via the infamous Dompas or passbook, carried by all black South African’s restricting movement without permission of an employer and effecting denationalisation of subjects who were relegated to what were known as apartheid bantustans.

IBM technology was further used to conscript white South African’s into the SADF engaged in illegal acts of aggression in the townships and also during the illegal occupation of Namibia (South West Africa).

As an activist in the anti-apartheid movement, I can testify to the role played by IBM technology in the profiling and apprehension of my associates, and worse, the abuse and torture of conscientious objectors, tracking of war resisters, and dirty tricks campaign against supporters of SWAPO, as well as counter-operations against MK guerrillas.

For the 2nd Circuit to once again pronounce on the Alien Tort Statute by limiting its scope and powers, has severe implications for civil rights around the globe, and does not bode well for future abuses of human rights. The decision as it stands, painfully ignores the eminent domain inherent to any lease of technology and equipment by a US company around the world.

That US courts disclaim all knowledge of apartheid, and likewise other similar acts of state abuse of labour, such as the Nazi Holocaust and Stalinist Russia, is so beyond the pale that it beggars belief.

The 2nd Circuit has said IBM cannot be held liable for the actions of its subsidiary, “because the allegations fell short of showing IBM acted purposefully”. It thus appears confused about the instrumentality and role of information technology and data capture in the pursuance of the egregious and despicable labour practices associated with apartheid.

It further misstates the case by saying the plaintiffs “cannot plausibly allege that by developing hardware and software to collect innocuous population data, IBM’s purpose was to denationalize black South Africans and further the aims of a brutal regime,”

South Africa under apartheid was not simply a brutal regime, it was a well-thought out scheme to deprive black South Africans of control over our own labour and the civil rights many take for granted, such as the vote.

That IBM was complicit in this system of servitude and forced labour, which included infamous labour camps on the mines, is an historical fact. To call such a diabolical scheme, ‘innocuous’ is a slap in the face of all free-thinking persons around the world.

I therefore call for access to justice and support of an appeal to the US Supreme Court, on behalf of the victims and survivors of the apartheid system.

Published by Cape Argus, 30 July 2015

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