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Minister Maduna on apartheid lawsuits

Justice Minister Penuell Maduna said on Thursday that although the government did not support the litigation against multinational companies involved in the country during the apartheid era, his understanding of South African law was that his government would have to respect the result of the lawsuits.
Justice Minister Penuell Maduna said on Thursday that although the government did not support the litigation against multinational companies involved in the country during the apartheid era, his understanding of South African law was that his government would have to respect the result of the lawsuits.

Nevertheless, he emphasised that the government had been involved in discouraging the lawsuits lodged in the United States and said he believed that if they were successful, it would not be investors in big companies abroad who would have to make the payouts, but South African investors.

He said: "While we acknowledge the right of the claimants to institute litigation, the government is of the view that the litigation in New York must be stopped."

Later in question time during a media briefing in parliament he said his understanding of the law was that if there were judgments in the litigation they would have to be respected by South Africa.

Hesaid the view that the outcome of lawsuits would not be respected in South Africa had been the opinion only of Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin.

Opposed to use of US courts

Maduna pointed out, however, that Erwin was not the line- function justice minister.

Erwin said in parliament in April that US class-action suits would not be recognised in South Africa.

"We are opposed to and (are), indeed contemptuous of, the attempts to use unsound extra-territorial legal precepts in the United States of America to seek personal financial gain in South Africa."

"While individuals have an inviolate right to recourse in law and this is firmly entrenched in South Africa, it is an abuse to use a law, an unsound law at that, of another land to undermine our sovereign right to settle our past and build our future as we see fit."

Meanwhile, Maduna said the issue remained about what could be done with the people of goodwill who wanted to voluntarily provide donations to the President's Fund for reparations of victims of apartheid, "but we have nothing to settle with them (the litigants)".

Using the mediation route

"We are not actually sitting down with them and saying we want a settlement with you. We are inviting everyone to make a contribution to the ... fund so we have resources to enable us to make reparations to victims of apartheid and not only those of gross human rights violations."

The starting point was "not to point accusing fingers" at companies that operated in apartheid South Africa, he emphasised, noting that the government had met Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane and some of the lawyers representing the litigants "and they indicated they may be prepared "to go down the mediation route."

President Thabo Mbeki also led an attack in April on the lawsuits - which included Anglo American, now with its headquarters in Britain, and De Beers, with its HQ in South Africa - in the wake of a suit filed by New York-based Ed Fagan who has successfully won judgments against firms that benefited from Nazi rule in Germany.

Mbeki said it was "completely unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of our country should be adjudicated in foreign courts which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country and the observance of the perspective contained in our constitution of the promotion of national reconciliation".

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