Apartheid victims secure GM compensation deal


A GROUP of apartheid victims has secured a landmark compensation deal from US car giant General Motors (GM), nearly a decade after first suing the company for collaborating with South Africa’s former racist regime.

GM has offered to compensate plaintiffs in the South Africa apartheid litigation case with $1.5 million (€1.15 million) worth of company shares, even though a US bankruptcy court had decided the apartheid claimants had no claim.

GM was among a group of 23 multinational firms – including household names in the oil, banking and technology sectors – first sued in November 2002 by human rights group Khulumani on behalf of 100 claimants for violating rights in South Africa.

Khulumani national director Dr Majorie Jobson welcomed the share offer by GM to the 25 victims, saying she hoped the settlement would set a precedent for the four remaining companies still being sued.

“General Motors decided on their own that they would make an offer to compensate victims of apartheid atrocities . . . They were not ordered by the court, but they brought the settlement offer to the bankruptcy court in New York where the case has been heard,” Ms Jobson said.

In the years since the litigation began, Khulumani has dropped cases against oil firms and banks because courts have ruled they provided normal services during the years of apartheid as well as specifically propping up the regime.

However, GM, along with Ford Motor Company, IBM, Daimler and Rheinmetall are accused of directly helping the apartheid regime by providing services that created vital infrastructure used to carry out rights violations.

Khulumani and the victims, who had been tortured or whose relatives had been killed, were able to bring their case under a US statute called the Alien Tort Claims Act. This controversial piece of legislation allows for civil actions to be brought by foreigners in the US.

The South African government, then led by Thabo Mbeki, originally said it would not support the action because it could damage relations with the West. But current president Jacob Zuma rowed in behind the class action when he came to power in 2009.

The GM shares will be placed into a trust fund held by US law firms that represented plaintiffs.