16 April 2003
President Thabo Mbeki has slammed the lawsuits being brought in the US against companies on behalf of victims of apartheid, warning that judgments handed down in foreign courts will not be honoured in South Africa.
Addressing Parliament during a debate on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, Mbeki said it was “completely unacceptable … that matters that are central to the future of our country should be adjudicated in foreign courts, which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country and the observance of the perspective contained in our Constitution of the promotion of national reconciliation”.
A number of South African-based companies, including mining giants Anglo American and De Beers and petrochemicals firm Sasol, have been named in a reparations claim being brought by controversial US lawyer Ed Fagan.
The government had previously said that it neither supported nor opposed such suits. Mbeki’s comments on Tuesday were more forthright, however, with the President assuring Parliament that the government was not and never would be party to this litigation.
Senior government ministers echoed Mbeki, with Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin saying that the government was “contemptuous” of the lawsuits, and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna noting that South African issues such as reparation and justice could not be solved through legal action by courts in the United States.
Maduna called on people rather to make contributions to the reparation trust fund which the government had established for reparations to apartheid victims, as recommended by the TRC report. “There is a call that has been made, that if you are able to do anything about the plight of the majority out there, do it”, Maduna said.
Mbeki also said on Tuesday that the government had rejected the TRC’s recommendation of a once-off “wealth tax” for South African companies found to have benefited from apartheid.
However, Mbeki said that business, just like any other sector of the population, had a role to play in reconstructing the country, and should contribute to the reparations fund, that would be managed by government and representatives from business.
The government will also provide a once-off R30 000 grant to about 20 000 individuals identified by the TRC as deserving reparation for suffering under apartheid.
The amount comes to about R660-million, and is in addition to more than R50-million government has already paid out, as an interim measure, to 16 500 of the 18 800 victims identified as needing urgent relief.