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  • Written by  Independent Online
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Apartheid victims vow to fight on

Apartheid victims have vowed to fight attempts by the South African government to block their reparations claims in a United States court. They are to seek expert legal opinion on whether they can take the government to court over what they believe are efforts to obstruct their rights to seek redress from foreign companies that they say propped up apartheid's repressive machinery.

The 55 000-member Khulumani Support Group for apartheid victims on Saturday denounced a decision by Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla to oppose their lawsuit brought in a New York court against a range of foreign banks and corporations in 2002. Along with two other victim groups, a total of about R2 700-billion in compensation is sought.

In a landmark victory the previous week, a New York 2nd Circuit appeals' court ruled that the case could be heard on the basis of the US Alien Torte Act. This is after the claims were at first dismissed in 2004 when the judge relied heavily on a South African affidavit stating that the case could scare off investment needed for growth.

Now that the case can go ahead, Mabandla on Friday stated that the South African government would again oppose the claims.

The victim groups argue that the companies aided and abetted the apartheid state - including by providing military equipment, fuel and technology.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and most former TRC commissioners have made affidavits supporting the victim groups' arguments.

The name of Sakwe Balintulo, 80, who is from the KTC informal settlement in Cape Town, tops the Khulumani claim that he and 78 others have brought on behalf of apartheid victims.

"We elected the government of Thabo Mbeki and Mandela but they don't look after us," Balintulo said at a meeting between about 100 representatives of Khulumani at Community House in Salt River and their South African lawyer, Charles Abrahams.

They asked Abrahams to put pressure on the government not to obstruct their claims. Abrahams was also mandated to seek expert legal opinion on whether a case could be brought inside South Africa to restrain the government from infringing the victims' rights to seek reparations elsewhere. A previous expert warned against this.

The group believes that evidence they have that the government was not serious about community reparations might alter the fortunes of their case.

In the government's affidavit to the US courts, Mabandla argued that the claims were "political" in their nature and that only the South African government could resolve the matter of apartheid redress.

Khulumani intends marching to Parliament on Friday for the third consecutive year to ask government what it is doing about its 2003 promise to make community reparations over and above the individual reparations paid to about 15 000 victims identified by the TRC.

Members claim the President's Fund contains R600-million in unspent funds and they have been left in the dark.

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