February 2, 2004

Tutu backs apartheid claims against top firms

Threatened US lawsuits against top South African firms and multinationals that benefited from apartheid rule have received a major boost, with former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu throwing his weight behind the multibillion rand apartheid reparations effort. Among the companies being targeted are Anglo American, Barclays Bank, British Petroleum, DaimlerChrysler and Shell, who are being sued in US courts to pay up to R100bn in reparations. Tutu's stance has put him at odds with, among others, Justice Minister Penuell Maduna, who had asked the US court to dismiss the lawsuits, since according to the Government the lawsuits could harm investment prospects in South Africa.
Tutu has sent a sworn affidavit to John Sprizzo, the New York district court judge who is dealing with the lawsuits, asking that they go ahead. In the affidavit, Tutu said: "It is my firm view that the aforementioned allegations by Dr
Maduna are without merit", adding that it made "no sense" to claim that the apartheid lawsuits would deter foreign investment in South Africa. "If anything, the contrary may be true. Placing corporations on notice that they will in future be held responsible for the effects of their investments in repressive regimes may well create an incentive for them to channel such investments into countries with a better human rights record."
Last year Anglo American said it strongly rejected the efforts made by US lawyers and others to use US courts to resolve important issues for South Africa
's future. Tutu's affidavit argued that the lawsuits could even promote reconciliation "by addressing the needs of those apartheid victims dissatisfied with the monetary value of TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) reparations."
Government played down that Tutu's views clashed with its own. Spokesman Joel
Netshitenzhe said that if Tutu had "sat down with Maduna to discuss this issue, he would have understood the logic behind this better". Part of Tutu's argument relates to the shortfall between the reparations payments recommended by the TRC and those made by government. While the TRC recommended payments totalling R3bn, government has made R571m available to 19.000 people. Tutu's statement is a welcome addition to the cause of the lawyers arguing for the reparations, given the criticism they have faced from the South African government. A South African lawyer who is bringing one of the four claims, John Ngcebetsha, said Tutu was asked to make a statement based on his extensive experience as a former TRC head. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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