A landmark case to decide whether several multinational corporations that operated in South Africa during apartheid were in cahoots with the government of the time began in New York.
Mpho Masemola and 24 others want German carmaker Daimler and four other companies, IBM, Ford, General Motors and the German industrial and defence group RheinMetall, to pay for their alleged role in human rights abuses committed by the apartheid regime.
Masemola and his co-plaintiffs claim that RheinMetall provided equipment and logistical support to security forces, who carried out assassinations and attacks on black townships during apartheid.
IBM and Fujitsu are being hauled before court because they supplied the computer systems which the apartheid victims claim enabled the pass laws which prohibited the movement of non-white people.
The case is being heard in New York under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-US citizens to bring civil suits against companies who are also trading in the US.
The case has received the attention of former education minister Kader Asmal.
Asmal has backed the five firms as a friend of the court.
The former minister, together with 15 academics, penned their names to a legal document supporting the request for dismissal.
“A corporation lacks the qualities of a moral conscience. Corporate liability does not exist because moral condemnation can only be imposed on natural persons,” they said.
Asmal told The Times’ sister newspaper, Sowetan, that he supported a dismissal because “this is a matter for South Africa to deal with, not for the American courts”.
His wife, Louise, answered his cellphone, saying Asmal had nothing to say.