On why they were determined to pursue the case, the group’s national director, Marjorie Jobson said: ‘It is critically important because it is an international human rights case that deals directly with corporate liability and multinational companies’ behaviour during apartheid.’ She suggested the reason why the law had not been developed in this area was probably ‘because most companies would rather negotiate a settlement because of the bad publicity’.
Financial Mail Interview with Khulumani’s National Director, Dr. Marjorie Jobson
Last week, apartheid victims represented by the Khulumani Group went to a US court seeking reparations from several major companies. Prakash Naidoo (Financial Mail) spoke to Marjorie Jobson, the group’s national director:
Why are you still pursuing this case?
It is critically important because it is an international human rights case that deals directly with corporate liability and multinational companies’ behaviour during apartheid. We also believe the issue of reparations has been inadequately dealt with in SA.
Critics such as Kader Asmal oppose this case, saying it usurps SA sovereignty and raises false hopes?
I don’t agree. Our case has been amended since we first launched it and this is not the question being considered by the court [in New York]. The key issue is whether the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) can be applied to civil as well as to criminal cases; and whether the ATS recognises corporate criminal liability under international customary law. ATS is the only available law internationally that recognises corporate liability.
How many multinationals are you going after?
In the first case we named 23 companies, mostly in arms, oil and the financial [sector]. In 2007 we reduced this to 11 and limited it to arms and ammunition, banks and computer firms. Only five companies are named in the latest case.
Which are these?
The car companies Daimler AG, Ford and GM (General Motors); Rheinmetall (the automotive and defence equipment group) and IBM (the computer giant).
What kind of award are you seeking?
We haven’t been able to put a figure on the amount yet. Much will depend on the companies involved, some of which are being bailed out by their governments.
How many people are involved and how would the awards be made?
About 58 000. We will ask for individual settlements to be awarded based on the nature of the violation and crime. But we also want to establish a foundation where people can apply to be part of certain programmes, which will include things such as medical assistance. Strict criteria be will applied.
Has government’s change of heart helped?
Enormously, because it has removed any further pressure on us to drop the case.
Could it be settled out of court?
We are very open to reaching a settlement provided [the companies] agree not to launch further appeals. But we also believe we can win this case.
Is there a precedent?
There doesn’t appear to be any court ruling on this kind of case. I think most companies would rather negotiate a settlement because of the bad publicity, which is one of the reasons why the law has not been able to develop in this area. We should know the outcome within the next three to six months.