April 16, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: Reparation for apartheid victims announced by State President

South African President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday, April 15, announced a once-off reparations payment for anti-apartheid victims, and rejected any general amnesty for human rights violations perpetrators who had not applied to the TRC for amnesty.

He also ruled out imposing a once-off wealth tax on companies to help address the legacy of apartheid. Instead, the state would encourage corporations and individuals to voluntarily contribute to the reconstruction and development of the country.

Introducing debate on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report during a joint sitting of Parliament, Mbeki said about 22,000 individuals or surviving families appeared before the commission. Of these, about 19,000 required urgent reparations, and virtually all of them - where the necessary information was available - were attended to as proposed by the TRC for interim reparations. Regarding final reparations, government would provide a once-off grant of R30,000 to those individuals or survivors designated by the TRC. These payments would be processed during the current financial year.

Turning to the amnesty issue, he said a general amnesty, whether applied to specific categories of people or regions of the country, would fly in the face of the TRC process. It would also detract from the principle of accountability, vital not only in dealing with the past, but also in the creation of a new ethos within South African society. The reality of many of the participants in the conflict of the past not having taken part in the TRC process, had to be dealt with. The matter would be left in the hands of the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) to, as normal, pursue any cases it believed deserved prosecution and could be prosecuted. However, in the national interest, the NDPP, working with the intelligence agencies, would leave its doors open for those who were prepared to divulge information at their disposal and to co-operate in unearthing the truth, Mbeki said.

Trade and Industry Minister Alec Erwin said a once-off wealth tax on companies was neither necessary, nor wise. "The existing tax level can provide for social needs whilst not acting as a disincentive for saving, investment or enterprise development." Erwin said any form of reparation should be lasting and extensive.

Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon said the payment of a financial grant to identified victims of apartheid was a welcome first step. In light of the careful framing of the TRC Act and the dreadful suffering of victims, it would be wrong to alter or widen the notion of "reparations", so as to include any real or imagined misfortune, he said. Albert Mncwango of the Inkatha Freedom Party said the TRC had been a "sensationalist circus of horrors presided over by a weeping clown craving the centre-stage spotlight". He called on the House not to "contaminate itself" by lending credibility to the document. "The TRC report is a flawed product of a flawed process, conducted with flawed motives," Mncwango said.

In a statement, the SA Chamber of Business (Sacob), said Mbeki had adopted a "pragmatic approach" to the report. "Sacob therefore welcomes (among other things) the announcement that government does not support the proposal by the TRC of a once-off wealth tax to corporate companies as a contribution to a reparation fund," it said.

At the same time, Mbeki led an all-out attack on the lawsuits being brought in the US against companies on behalf of victims of apartheid, warning judgments handed down in foreign courts would not be honoured in SA.

Anglo American, the world's largest precious metals company, and De Beers, the largest diamond producer, have been sued for R6,1bn by former employees who say they were enslaved and tortured under apartheid. The suit was filed by attorneys including New York-based Ed Fagan, who won $6,25bn in judgments against firms that benefited from Nazi rule in Germany. Mbeki, however, shut the door on this approach, and business welcomed his forthright rejection of the US lawsuits, which investors warned could further discourage companies, already burdened by excessive hidden costs of doing business in SA, from investing or expanding in SA.

Government's recent reaction to the Fagan suits had been to say it would neither support nor oppose them. But in an apparent hardening of government's attitude on the issue, Mbeki said the lawsuits were "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". Mbeki assured Parliament that government was not a party to this litigation, nor would it be at any stage. (SAPA, Business Day, Mail & Guardian / Johannesburg)

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