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Apartheid reparations: Time to 'revisit the past'

Jubilee South Africa and the Khulumani Support Group for apartheid survivors contested the government's view on Monday that reparations lawsuits in the United States were unnecessary because the issue had been dealt with. The groups, who are suing 23 multinational companies in a New York court for supporting apartheid, said at a press briefing on Monday they were disappointed with a letter received from Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla last week.

Mabandla wrote: "We contend that issues of our past have been dealt with and that reparations are being made to victims of apartheid. Government has not changed its stance." Jubilee Secretary General George Dor said the sole obstacle standing in the way of an "automatic acceptance" of the case is the opposition of the government.

Former justice minister Peneull Maduna asked the court in a submission in July last year to dismiss the case on the grounds that it would have the effect of setting up a surrogate government (on account of the quantity of damages being requested) and they would undermine the contributions "that corporate South Africa are lready making to[wards] the broad national goal of rehabilitating the lives of those affected by apartheid".

Dor said the international human rights community stood by Jubilee and Khulumani in contesting this assertion. Our organisations will continue to be open to meeting with government to put our case, indeed we are even more determined than before to meet," he said.

Khulumani chairperson Marjorie Jobson also said bygones could not be bygones. She said she recently spoke to Austrian government officials who were still paying compensation to victims of the Nazi holocaust. "It is necessary to revisit the past," she said.

Addressing concerns that the lawsuit could undermine the delicate web of compromises that underlie the current Constitution, she said the Austrian experience showed it took many years to strip away the layers of accountability and bring the guilty to justice. There's lots of debate about how to secure a stable, durable and peaceful South Africa. The solution must work to everyone's benefit."

Asked how many jobs a possible victory would cost, Dor said former World Bank senior vice president and chief economist Joseph Stiglitz had endorsed their campaign, and was of the opinion it was more likely to create than destroy employment. - Sapa

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