On 4 August 2017 the matter of the South African History Archive (“SAHA”) v the South African Reserve Bank (“SARB”) was heard in the high court. Lawyers for Human Rights (“LHR”) represented SAHA as the applicant in this matter.

SAHA makes requests in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (“PAIA”) as part of its Freedom of Information Programme which uses PAIA as a tool to extend the boundaries of freedom of information in South Africa. SAHA provides public access to material that is of historic, political, social, economic and cultural importance.

SAHA made a PAIA request to the SARB that essentially dealt with the release of records relating to abuses of the financial rand, corruption and foreign exchange transactions under apartheid, including loans and permissions for transfer of funds outside the country. The high court application was made in relation to the refusal of this request for release of the information relating to investigations into the alleged fraudulent activity of several individuals.

  1. Giovanni Guiseppe Ricci
  2. Stephanus Petrus
  3. Brigadier Johann Philip Blaauw
  4. Paul Ekon
  5. Robert Oliver Hill
  6. Vito Palazzolo
  7. Craig Wiliamson
  8. Wouter Basson

The Court dismissed the application with costs on 19 March 2018 in a disappointing judgment which LHR feels fails to acknowledge the importance of access to information in a democratic society. Punishing SAHA, a non-governmental organisation committed to promoting greater awareness of past and contemporary struggles for justice with bearing the burden of costs is seen as a major setback in our struggle to promote transparency, accountability and effective governance of all public and private bodies – a stated objective of PAIA. The court held that the PAIA request made by SAHA is “unduly vague and broad” and SARB could therefore not address them.

SAHA argued that the information should be released in the public interest. The SARB relied on two grounds of exclusion to override the public interest, namely the possible abuse of information gathering powers and the prejudice to the future supply of information to the SARB. The court held that “The public interest in the disclosure of the record does not outweigh the harm contemplated in the exclusion ground especially given the fact that the PAIA request pertains to documents collected by the SARB decades ago”.

LHR further notes with concern that the court does not directly address the reasons for the cost order. A possible appeal is under consideration.

For more information please contact Wayne Ncube- Head of Strategic Litigation on 011 3391960 or Carol Mohlala- Media and Communications Manager on 079 238 9826 

Download the full judgement here