The South African History Archive (SAHA) has described the ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which ordered the South African Reserve Bank to release certain apartheid-era records, as a victory for democracy.

In a landmark ruling, the SCA has set aside a High Court judgment which denied SAHA access to documents of suspected apartheid-era financial crimes.

The SCA found that the decision by the Reserve Bank to deny SAHA access to certain apartheid-era records, violated provisions of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The order is likely to lead to the disclosure of records relating to, among others, fraud related to foreign exchange, Eskom bonds, gold smuggling and smuggling of other precious metals.

The alleged financial crimes were committed between January 1982 and January 1995.

SAHA insists it’s important to hold accountable those responsible for apartheid-era and present-day crimes.

Director for SAHA says given the alleged widespread state capture in South Africa and the untangling of these extensive networks that enable corruption, it is more pressing than ever for the state to consider proactive disclosure of key archival records as a way of its own commitment to the values of transparency, accountability and integrity.

The Reserve Bank declined SAHA’s request, citing among others, confidentiality and the possible risk to South Africa’s economic interests.

The request for the records was undertaken by SAHA in consultation with Open Secrets – a civil society organisation – focused on investigating links between financial crimes and human rights abuses.

Director for Open Secrets Hennie Van Vuuren says, “The ruling will lead to the revelation of details regarding apartheid-era procurement practices and accountability, including abuses of financial rand, corruption and foreign exchange transactions.”

Legal expert Lebohang Mokhele says, “Once information has been discovered, what will be the usage of such information, it could be for good and bad.”

The Appeal Court has also set aside the August 2017 High Court costs order against SAHA, estimated to be worth almost R3 million.

The court has described the Reserve Bank’s approach to withholding records as “redolent to the dark days of apartheid where secrecy was routinely weaponised against a defenceless population.”