FOCUS takes a closer look at a law suit that's been brought against several companies for their alleged collaboration with the apartheid regime in South Africa. The case is playing out in a court room in the United States. Along with Ford, IBM and Daimler, the defendants also include General Motors, Japan's Fujitsu, and the German defense company Rheinmetall.
Sindiswa Nunu is one of tens of thousands of South Africans who have taken up a class-action suit against international companies that they accuse of collaborating with the Apartheid regime. In 1976, when she was five months pregnant, she was tortured and lost her baby. This was just one of many deaths for her and her family.
A victim of the system, she is tracking down the international players from those years.
“If weapons companies hadn’t worked with our government at the time,” explains Nunu, a member of the Khumani Support Group, “The apartheid regime definitely couldn’t have done the things that they did."
Millions of South Africans were direct victims of the Apartheid. Eight major multinational corporations, including Swiss banks that dealt South African gold, German car companies that provided military vehicles, and computer companies whose software made the regime’s racial classification system dangerously efficient, are involved in the case.
South African lawyers have been preparing the case for nearly 10 years. Under US law, any person or group that has directly or indirectly facilitated human rights violations can be sued. The United Nations has classified the Apartheid as a crime against humanity.
“There was widespread support for the holocaust suits, because of the extreme atrocities that were committed,” says Khulumani Support Group Lawyer Charles Abrahams. “One wonders why there isn’t the same kind of support for Apartheid victims, when in fact for more than 40 years, people in South Africa have absolutely gone through a holocaust experience”, he says.
Victims of the Apartheid were seldom compensated
In South Africa the case is widely supported, mainly because the issue of reparations has never been resolved. The Truth and Reconciliation commission very seldom compensated victims of Apartheid. Many hope that this judicial saga will allow the creation of a reparation fund that will target those who are most in need.
“Compensation money will have to be administered, in such a way that those who suffered under apartheid and continue to suffer today benefit from these funds,” says Professor Lungisile, from the department of Sociology at the University of Cape Town.
It could take years to resolve the case, but the plaintiffs have no qualms about waiting. They have nothing to lose, they say.
“We are just like the David and Goliath,” explains Nunu. We told ourselves that we are going to be as patient as we can. Even if we lose, the important thing is that the world know that we fought for this.”
So far, none of the implicated companies have commented on the law suit. For them, is it business as usual in the country once ruled by Apartheid.