Johannesburg – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has spoken out for the first time against the SA government’s opposition to claims by apartheid victims for compensation, urging a US court to go ahead with the case.
The Sunday Independent said that his plea was contained in an eight-page affidavit, in which Tutu, the former chairperson of the TRC, for the first time voiced frustration with the stance taken by the government of President Thabo Mbeki.
Tutu’s statement to the New York District Court, where the reparation claims have been lodged against major international companies – which claimants said did business with the white minority regime – “pulls no punches”, the paper said.
It added the government’s “assertion that adjudication of these lawsuits would be at odds with the TRC, or otherwise undermine reconciliation in South Africa, is a non-sequitur”.
“To the contrary,” Tutu continued, “the obtaining of compensation for victims of apartheid, supplement the very modest amount per victim to be awarded as reparation under the TRC process, could promote reconciliation.”
This would be done “by adressing the needs of those apartheid victims dissatisfied with the small monetary value of TRC reparations,” Tutu said.
New York District Court judge John Sprizzo heard arguments in November from both claimants and defendants, indicating he would hand down judgment whether the lawsuits should go ahead by mid-February.
The list of companies accused includes US banking giants Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, Swiss banks Credit Suisse and UBS, German companies Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, French banks Credit Lyonnais and IndoSuez, as well as industrial groups such as IBM, DaimlerChrysler, Novartis and ExxonMobil.
The case is seen as crucial for four separate lawsuits launched against multinational banks and companies which allegedly supported the apartheid state during the 1980s in contravention of UN sanctions.
Justice Minister Penuell Maduna asked the court in July to dismiss the suits.
Mbeki has in the past condemned the move, arguing that many of the companies cited were now assisting in South Africa’s development.