9 September 2003
Justice Minister Penuell Maduna has dashed hopes of government’s support for apartheid reparation litigation filed overseas by local groups against multinational corporations.
Addressing more than a hundred delegates attending a two-day civil society conference in Johannesburg recently, Maduna said such a move would compromise the country’s sovereignty.
“What is clear, though, is that if litigation is to proceed – and we do not support that – then it must be processed within South African courts”, Maduna added. “In this way we retain our dignity as a country, respect our sovereignty, and accept that as South Africans we have to solve our own problems.”
He said that if the country failed to take a stand on the litigation, “we shall be courting interference in our domestic affairs”.
The gathering was convened by Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Khulumani Support Group, Jubilee South Africa, and Dumisani Ntsebeza, a former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, now heading the litigation.
Some victims of apartheid have lodged litigation in New York, demanding compensation from multinational corporations that they claim “aided and abetted” the apartheid system.
Maduna’s remarks came on the same day that former President Nelson Mandela added his voice to growing disapproval of South Africans taking companies to foreign courts.
South Africans were competent to deal with issues of reconciliation, reparation and transformation among themselves without outside interference, instigation or instruction, Mandela said.
During his State of the Nation Address in February, President Thabo Mbeki said the government disapproved of such steps, describing attempts to use US courts to settle issues of reparation and justice that rightly belonged in South Africa as “unacceptable”.
Maduna told last month’s gathering that “history and the world have already passed judgment on the apartheid state, therefore South Africans, let alone foreign courts, do not have to try and do so again.
“Once we decide that such courts should determine who supported the apartheid regime, who benefited from it and who is responsible for the gross violation of human rights abuses, then we impair our sovereignty.”
Maduna rejected claims that the government was protecting business against such civil suits. “This is not a pro-business stance, it’s not anti-business. It is a pro-South Africa stance”, he said.
The government has argued that such litigation would only hurt the country, as some of the targeted companies are trading in the South African economy and thus helping to increase employment.
The government has created a reparation fund where business, civil society and the government can pump money for compensation as well as community development.
The authorities will also pay a once-off R30 000 grant to individuals identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as victims of human rights abuses under apartheid.
The government also continues to restore the dignity of millions in South Africa who were oppressed under apartheid by rolling out electricity, water, social grants and housing, Maduna said.