by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo has permitted us to serialize excerpts of her new book, No FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo incurred the wrath of EPA when she protested the agency’s alliance with corporations that were poisoning miners in South Africa. We begin with the forward to the book, by Noam Chomsky.
Part One: No FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph
by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo
“If these crimes had been perpetrated by the former Soviet Union or Venezuela, it is unlikely that a single eyebrow would have been raised about the way a gifted and dedicated civil servant was abused by her own government when she blew the whistle.”
Foreword by Noam Chomsky
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo wrote to me in 1996 expressing her deep frustration with the “cover-ups” and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to use her to execute what she perceived to be its back channel deception in South Africa. She wrote: “We had promised to assist a community center that also doubles as an orphanage for children who lost their parents during the revolution.” That facility, which wanted to train students in environmental waste management, was about to close, according to Marsha, “because of EPA’s neglect.” Offering another example of EPA’s disregard for the local population, she reported that “ hundred[s] people [have reportedly] died due to water contamination.
EPA agreed in July  to send a team of scientists to the Brits area [a mining community] to test the water… Again, EPA reneged on its commitment and then tried to force me to ‘cover up’ its lies to the EPA Administrator's Office and the Vice President's Office by stating that a ‘dairy cow’ assessment…was in fact related to the request by the Brits Community. When one talks about ‘cover-ups’ and racist policies by U.S. policy makers towards African countries I can't think of a better case study than the EPA example. The Agency has knowingly withheld assistance that could have saved lives and decreased misery.”
“The reports included tongues turning green, bronchitis, asthma, bleeding from nearly every orifice of the body, and impotence in young healthy male workers.”
With Marsha Coleman-Adebayo’s book, we now have the benefit of the records she kept as an insider within the seat of power from about the mid-nineties, as well a U.S. federal court transcript that put U.S. foreign policy makers under oath at trial. …Dr. Coleman-Adebayo 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 within the Nelson Mandela government. As she discusses, the U.S. government ignored these reports, choosing to protect the American-owned and multinational corporation that were operating in South Africa. The reports included tongues turning green, bronchitis, asthma, bleeding from nearly every orifice of the body, and impotence in young healthy male workers.
Even after the U.S.-South Africa Binational Commission (BNC) agreed that a team of experts from the U.S. would investigate these reports, no serious investigation ever occurred. Instead, EPA dispatched a single veterinarian to care for its new Black African partners, as the U.S. focused all its serious efforts and resources on developing a private sector project. …
If these crimes had been perpetrated by the former Soviet Union or Venezuela, it is unlikely that a single eyebrow would have been raised about the way a gifted and dedicated civil servant was abused by her own government when she blew the whistle on corruption and the atrocities that she encountered in South Africa. It is easier to ascribe deplorable behavior to political systems we reject than to admit they occurred within our own government. However, the excesses that Marsha documents occurred within our own federal system…
“The U.S. government ignored these reports, choosing to protect the American-owned and multinational corporation that were operating in South Africa.”
Whether the agenda setting media bother to look there or not, the trial transcript is part of the public record. It contains a diagram of the crime scene, in the form of sworn testimony by federal employees, Senior Executive Service (SES) federal managers, political appointees who were presidentially appointed and congressionally approved to carry out the policies of the Clinton-Gore administration, along with names, dates, rationale, official dissembling, and corroborative testimony that convinced a jury that the EPA had systematically discriminated against Marsha and maintained a hostile work environment. There is significant testimony regarding the mining of vanadium. We may recall that Union Carbide was at the heart of the Bhopal, India, disaster that killed several thousand Indians in their sleep. Union Carbide’s legal representation was adroit in minimizing financial liability for the company and justice for its victims. Only recently were seven Indian officials of Union Carbide found guilty of criminal conduct for their roles in the disaster. Still, no Americans have ever been brought to justice.
Vanadium helped fuel the industrial revolution and is listed as a strategic mineral by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency because it strengthens the ability of steel to withstand temperature extremes of heat and cold, and is critical to the functioning of machinery—not to mention advanced weaponry. Perhaps this explains the government’s reluctance to look too closely at the human and environmental devastation wrought by vanadium mining….
Vice President Al Gore said of the BNC, “I reaffirm that the people of the United States of America are committed to the strongest possible partnership with the citizens of South Africa," with his counterpart, South African then-deputy president Thabo Mbeki proclaiming that he appreciated, "this relationship of support and engagement for creating a better life for the people of this country." CNN reported that a further goal of the BNC was to hold regular trade talks and cooperate in the fight against international terrorism.
“Multinational corporations continued to enjoy impunity for major crimes, illustrating yet again how profits are placed over people.”
Although Nelson Mandela went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, his name remained on the official U.S. list of terrorists until 2008, twenty years after the Reagan administration declared his African National Congress to be one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups” for its resistance to the brutal apartheid regime that Washington was supporting. Meanwhile multinational corporations continued to enjoy impunity for major crimes, illustrating yet again how profits are placed over people.
According to CNN, “South Africa is the United States' most important trading partner in Africa. …The United States exported $3 billion worth of goods to South Africa in 1997 and imported South African goods worth $2.5 billion,”1 with imports of strategic value to the U.S. such as magnesium, gold, diamonds, and vanadium.
The BNC was established under the leadership of Presidents Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela on March 1, 1995, to (among other things) “launch a new era in cooperation between the two countries by establishing permanent and vigorous institutional partnerships,” and “explore areas for cooperation based on shared values and experiences.” Furthermore “every project approved by the co-chaired committee must then be approved by the South African Government….”2
The narrative prepared about Marsha for public consumption depicted her courageous effort in pursuing justice in the courts (Coleman-Adebayo v Carol Browner) and presenting her case to Congress as proof of the need for federal employee whistleblower and civil rights protection….The legislation passed both houses of Congress unanimously, with Marsha’s case mentioned in its introductory language. The president honored Marsha at the signing, as it was the first civil rights and whistleblower protection legislation of the twenty-first century…
…We have now lived long enough into that bright future to assess its accomplishments. Since 1994, when the ANC took power, those living under a dollar a day has doubled from 2 to 4 million; the unemployment rate for Black Africans has more than doubled; of the 35 million black citizens, five thousand earn more than $60,000 a year while for whites the number is twenty times higher; the ANC has built 1.8 million homes, while at the same time, 2 million have lost their homes; 1 million people were evicted from their farms in the first decade of democracy; the number of shack dwellers has increased by half; in 2006 more than one in four lived in shantytowns, many without running water or electricity. The U.S. Department of State reports that in 2008, South African exports to the U.S. had risen to $9.9 billion. The U.S. was the second largest source of foreign direct investment in South Africa after the U.K, and the largest portfolio investor at $51.6 billion. One can only marvel at how the benefits have managed to elude the huddled masses…. 3
“In Marsha’s case we see a rare instance of the victim who becomes the victor.”
The severe human costs of these measures are downplayed in media reporting and commentary in favor of themes of liberated masses of Black South Africans and the bright future that was awaiting all of them….
[In the US] The impetus to pass the No FEAR Act [the Notification of Federal Emloyees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act] was bottom-up, with masses of federal workers risking their jobs to demand protection from their superiors. Now that Marsha has turned a vanadium-clad mirror on the inner workings of what she calls the federal envirotaucracy, others may use her achievement to help find a way to approach their government without fear. International readers—particularly the citizens of developing countries—should feel chilled by this narrative and be wary of investors bearing gifts. In Marsha’s case we see a rare instance of the victim who becomes the victor. But it is important to remember that she did not act alone. Only when ordinary people act in accordance with their decent impulses and work to improve the world—quoting the ANC Freedom Charter: “The people shall govern.”
See Marsha on C-Span Book/TV at:www.marshacoleman-adebayo.org.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA 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 US 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.)
(source: Url: http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/africa/9902/18/us.sa.talks) all CNN citations refer to this footnote
2 Interagency Working Group on International Exchanges and Training/IAWG Country Studies: South Africa. http://www.iawg.gov/rawmedia_repository/3fd49561_6f66_4752_88f0_f7c120972851