The Khulumani group, who filed their suit under the auspices of Jubilee South Africa, said they would appeal the court's decision while intensifying their international campaign for reparation.
A spokesperson for the 82 plaintiffs, anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus said the group was deeply disappointed with the court's dismissal of their claim.
Brutus accused New York Judge John Sprizzo of putting the importance of economic investment above human rights.
"In our judgment both the judge and the (former) minister of justice (Penuell Maduna) were valuing financial matters higher than humane values and we find this deeply troubling," Brutus said in Johannesburg.
The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District Court of New York under the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. This law allows foreign victims of serious human rights abuses to sue in US courts.
The group claimed their human rights were violated by the apartheid government in that they, or family members, were the victims of indiscriminate shootings, unlawful killings, rape, torture and kidnapping.
The defendants in the action included such multinational as Barclays National Bank, Ford Motor Company, Mobil, Daimler-Chrysler, Caltex Petroleum, Deutsche Bank and British Petroleum.
Sprizzo dismissed the claims on the grounds that forcing these companies to pay reparations would have a negative impact on foreign investment in South Africa.
Jubilee South Africa criticised both Sprizzo and the South African government for its role in the court's decision.
Jubilee chairperson MP Giyose accused Sprizzo of putting economic considerations above human rights.
"Sprizzo was particularly pleased to rely for his economic doctrine in the judgment on the commercial motives invested in a letter deposited before his court by the weightless, light-minded Penuell Maduna on behalf of a South African government dominated by free marketeers."
Giyose also lashed out at President Thabo Mbeki.
"... for the people of South Africa, as for the Khulumani plaintiffs, it is critical to note the reactionary role played by the Mbeki government on this question."
Originally the government did not interfere in the reparation lawsuits, but, said Giyose, pressure from the US government caused its South African counterpart to file papers with the New York court, asking for the case to be dismissed.
It was not yet clear when the Khulumani group's appeal would be heard.