Johannesburg – Victims of South Africa’s apartheid regime, angered by reparation delays, have filed a suit against Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu and top government officials in a bid to get their money, lawyers said on Thursday.
The suit filed on behalf of a South African victims’ rights group seeks access to the state’s compensation plans for thousands of victims of apartheid who have waited up to four years for payments.
“Many of these people are destitute and have serious health problems. They want to know what the government will do for them in terms of reparations,” said Alison Tilley, a lawyer representing the Khulumani victims’ rights group.
The suit was filed in a Cape Town court on Wednesday.
It is the latest court action centred on the emotive issue of reparations in South Africa, where the scars of more than 40 years of white-minority rule are still raw.
American and South African lawyers announced plans earlier this month for a $50 billion class action suit on behalf of apartheid victims against Swiss and US banks.
Waiting for compensation
Thousands of South Africans are still waiting for compensation recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), set up by former President Nelson Mandela to heal the country’s apartheid wounds after his election in 1994.
The TRC, which was headed by Bishop Tutu and wrapped up its work earlier this year, recommended in its 1998 interim report that the state pay compensation worth more than R3 billion ($282 million) to more than 21 000 victims of apartheid.
Some victims have received interim payments, but Khulumani and other rights groups say it’s not enough and final compensation is taking too long.
Tilley said Tutu was named in the suit because he was the chair of the TRC, which played a key role in formulating the government’s policy toward reparations.
A spokesperson for Tutu said on Thursday he would not respond until he had reviewed the court documents.
The suit also names President Thabo Mbeki and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna, whose ministry is responsible for drawing up the reparations policy.
Not controlling purse strings
The court action seeks a copy of the policy under South Africa’s access to information laws. But Maduna’s spokesperson said it was a confidential cabinet document.
“We are finalising the policy and waiting for the final report of the Truth commission,” said Maduna’s press secretary Paul Setsetse.
The TRC was expected to hand over its final report to the president at the end of June, but Setsetse said the report was now expected in August.
The TRC gave amnesty to those who committed apartheid-era crimes in exchange for telling the truth, but it did not control the purse strings for reparations.
The anger and resentment fuelled by the slow compensation process has led analysts to predict more lawsuits against the state and against local companies which benefited from apartheid policies which ensured cheap black labour.