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After more than a year’s worth of legal battles concerning exchange controls in South Africa, news today came out that billionaire Mark Shuttleworth won his case against the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). The central bank has been ordered to pay back R250-million it levied him when he left the country in 2009, with interest.
In the immediate aftermath of the trial, Shuttleworth has announced that he will donate the full R250-million to a trust which would seek to address constitutional rights for African citizens at large “where the state is the counterparty.”
In a blog post, Shuttleworth says that he hopes his actions will empower future South Africans, and Africans as a whole:
“This case also has a very strong personal element for me, because it is exchange controls which make it impossible for me to pursue the work I am most interested in from within South Africa and which thus forced me to emigrate years ago. I pursue this case in the hope that the next generation of South Africans who want to build small but global operations will be able to do so without leaving the country. In our modern, connected world, and our modern connected country, that is the right outcome for all South Africans.”
Shuttleworth argues that South Africa’s “stiff” financial regulations negatively effects business, cross-border labourers and the general economy.
“Banks profit from exchange controls, but our economy is stifled, and the most vulnerable suffer most of all. Everything you buy is more expensive, South Africans are less globally competitive, and cross-border labourers, already vulnerable, pay the highest price of all — a shame we should work to address,” he writes.
Shuttleworth further states that the balance of power is flawed between the state and its citizens:
“This is a time in our history when it will be increasingly important to defend constitutional rights. Historically, these are largely questions related to the balance of power between the state and the individual,” the Ubuntu founder says.
“For all the eloquence of our Constitution, it will be of little benefit to us all if it cannot be made binding on our government. It is expensive to litigate at the constitutional level, which means that such cases are imbalanced — the State has the resources to make its argument, but the individual often does not.”
According to Shuttleworth, the trust won’t just benefit South Africans, but people across the African continent.
“For that reason, I will commit the funds returned to me to today by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to a trust run by veteran and retired constitutional scholars, judges and lawyers, that will selectively fund cases on behalf of those unable to do so themselves, where the counterparty is the state. The mandate of this trust will extend beyond South African borders, to address constitutional rights for African citizens at large, on the grounds that our future in South Africa is in every way part of that great continent.”