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Dennis Brutus as Marx in Marx in Soho

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In the tradition of Howard Zinn's Marx in Soho, Dennis Brutus presents Marx in the light of the contradictions in post-Apartheid South Africa. This performance will act as a corrective to South Africa's Prime Minister's Thabo Mbeki's talk at the United Nations General Assembly.

Dennis Brutus was an activist against the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1960s. He worked to get South Africa suspended from the Olympics; this eventually led to the country's expulsion from the games in 1970. He joined the Anti-Coloured Affairs Department organisation (Anti-CAD), a group that organized against the Coloured Affairs Department which was an attempt by the government to institutionalise divisions between blacks and coloureds. He was arrested in 1963 and jailed for 18 months on Robben Island.

In exile, he was professor of Africana studies at Northwestern and Pittsburgh, and an internationally-renowned speaker on social justice issues. He is also probably the most read and cited poet from Africa, and author of Poetry and Protest (Haymarket Books, 2006) and many other works of poetry. In 2005 he joined the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society as an honorary professor.


WENDY'S BOOK LOUNGE kindly invites you to the official book launch of Time with Dennis Brutus: Conversations, Quotations and Snapshots, by Cornelius Thomas

World-renowned political organizer and one of Africa’s most celebrated
poets, Dennis Brutus, died early on 26 December 2009 in Cape Town, in his sleep, aged 85.

Even in his last days, Brutus was fully engaged, advocating social protest
against those responsible for climate change, and promoting reparations to
black South Africans from corporations that benefited from apartheid. He was a leading plaintiff in the Alien Tort Claims Act case against major firms that is now making progress in the US court system.

Brutus was born in Harare in 1924, but his South African parents soon moved
to Port Elizabeth where he attended Paterson and Schauderville High Schools. He entered Fort Hare University on a full scholarship in 1940, graduating with a distinction in English and a second major in Psychology. Further studies in law at the University of the Witwatersrand were cut short by imprisonment for anti-apartheid activism.

Brutus’ political activity initially included extensive journalistic
reporting, organising with the Teachers’ League and Congress movement, and leading the new South African Sports Association as an alternative to white sports bodies. After his banning in 1961 under the Suppression of Communism Act, he fled to Mozambique but was captured and deported to Johannesburg.

There, in 1963, Brutus was shot in the back while attempting to escape police custody. Memorably, it was in front of Anglo American Corporation headquarters that he nearly died while awaiting an ambulance reserved for blacks.

While recovering, he was held in the Johannesburg Fort Prison cell which
more than a half-century earlier housed Mahatma Gandhi. Brutus was
transferred to Robben Island where he was jailed in the cell next to Nelson
Mandela, and in 1964-65 wrote the collections Sirens Knuckles Boots and
Letters to Martha, two of the richest poetic expressions of political

Subsequently forced into exile, Brutus resumed simultaneous careers as a
poet and anti-apartheid campaigner in London, and while working for the
International Defense and Aid Fund, was instrumental in achieving the
apartheid regime’s expulsion from the 1968 Mexican Olympics and then in 1970 from the Olympic movement.

Upon moving to the US in 1977, Brutus served as a professor of literature
and African studies at Northwestern (Chicago) and Pittsburgh, and defeated
high-profile efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him during the
early 1980s. He wrote numerous poems, ninety of which will be published
posthumously next year by Worcester State University, and he helped organize major African writers organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe.

Following the political transition in South Africa, Brutus resumed
activities with grassroots social movements in his home country. In the late
1990s he also became a pivotal figure in the global justice movement and a
featured speaker each year at the World Social Forum, as well as at protests
against the World Trade Organisation, G8, Bretton Woods Institutions and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

Brutus continued to serve in the anti-racism, reparations and economic
justice movements as a leading strategist until his death, calling in August
for the ‘Seattling’ of the recent Copenhagen summit because sufficient
greenhouse gas emissions cuts and North-South ‘climate debt’ payments were not on the agenda.

His final academic appointment was as Honorary Professor at the University
of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society, and for that university’s press
and Haymarket Press, he published the autobiographical Poetry and Protest in 2006.

Amongst numerous recent accolades were the US War Resisters League peace award in September, two Doctor of Literature degrees conferred at Rhodes and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in April - following six other honorary doctorates – and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the South African government Department of Arts and Culture in 2008.

Brutus was also awarded membership in the South African Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, but rejected it on grounds that the institution had not confronted the country’s racist history. He also won the Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes awards.

The memory of Dennis Brutus will remain everywhere there is struggle against injustice. Uniquely courageous, consistent and principled, Brutus bridged the global and local, politics and culture, class and race, the old and the young, the red and green. He was an emblem of solidarity with all those peoples oppressed and environments wrecked by the power of capital and state elites – hence some in the African National Congress government labeled him ‘ultraleft’. But given his role as a world-class poet, Brutus showed that social justice advocates can have both bread and roses.

Brutus’s poetry collections are:
  • Sirens Knuckles and Boots (Mbari Productions, Ibaden, Nigeria and
    Northwestern University Press, Evanston Illinois, 1963).

  • Letters to Martha and Other Poems from a South African Prison (Heinemann,
    Oxford, 1968).

  • Poems from Algiers (African and Afro-American Studies and Research
    Institute, Austin, Texas, 1970).

  • A Simple Lust (Heinemann, Oxford, 1973).

  • China Poems (African and Afro-American Studies and Research Centre,
    Austin, Texas, 1975).

  • Strains (Troubador Press, Del Valle, Texas).

  • Stubborn Hope (Three Continents Press, Washington, DC and Heinemann,
    Oxford, 1978).

  • Salutes and Censures (Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Nigeria, 1982).

  • Airs and Tributes (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 1989).

  • Still the Sirens (Pennywhistle Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1993).

  • Remembering Soweto, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey, 2004).

  • Leafdrift, ed. Lamont B. Steptoe (Whirlwind Press, Camden, New Jersey,

  • Poetry and Protest: A Dennis Brutus Reader, ed. Aisha Kareem and Lee
    Sustar (Haymarket Books, Chicago and University of KwaZulu-Natal Press,
    Pietermaritzburg, 2006).

  • He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and Dolly, eight
    children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in Hong Kong,
    England, the USA and Cape Town.
    (By Patrick Bond)

    Statement from the Brutus Family on the passing of Professor Dennis Brutus

    Professor Dennis Brutus died quietly in his sleep on the 26th December,
    earlier this morning. He is survived by his wife May, his sisters Helen and
    Dolly, eight children, nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren in
    Hong Kong, England, the USA and Cape Town.

    Dennis lived his life as so many would wish to, in service to the causes of justice, peace, freedom and the protection of the planet. He remained positive about the future, believing that popular movements will achieve their aims.

    Dennis’ poetry, particularly of his prison experiences on Robben Island,
    has been taught in schools around the world. He was modest about his work,
    always trying to improve on his drafts.

    His creativity crossed into other areas of his life, he used poetry to
    mobilize, to inspire others to action, also to bring joy.

    We wish to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff who provided excellent
    care for Dennis in his final months, and to also thank St Luke’s Hospice for
    their assistance.

    One of the first South African poets to be widely read in Europe and the U.S., Dennis Brutus' work found early critical acclaim. His first book, Sirens, Knuckles, Boots, was published while he was imprisoned for defying a 'banning' order by the apartheid government following his campaign to desegregate the South African Olympic team. His best-known book, Letters to Martha (Heinemann, Oxford and London), deals with his prison experiences.

    After being shot in the back by Johannesburg police during an escape attempt and breaking rocks for 18 months at the notorious Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela, Brutus was exiled in 1966, and in London resumed simultaneous careers as a poet and anti-apartheid campaigner. He was instrumental in achieving the apartheid regime's expulsion from the Olympics, won numerous awards for poetry, and helped organize key African writers' organizations with his colleagues Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe. Upon moving to the U.S., Brutus served in several academic positions, including at Northwestern University and the
    University of Pittsburgh, defeating efforts by the Reagan Administration to deport him.

    Following the transition to democracy in South Africa, Brutus remained active with grassroots social movements in his home country and internationally. In the late 1990s he became a pivotal figure in the global justice movement and a featured speaker each year at the World Social Forum. In the anti-racism, reparations and economic justice movements, he continues to serve as a leading strategist, working closely with international networks such as the Jubilee anti-debt movement. In South Africa, he has been a key figure in the Social Movements Indaba. In Southern Africa, he has traveled widely and has numerous contacts within the region's social justice movements.

    Online archives

    Archival Collection Name: Dennis Brutus (1924- ) Papers
    Location of activities: United States
    Time Period of Collection: 1960 - 1984
    Description: Papers of Dennis Brutus, poet, South African expatriate,
    and English Professor at Northwestern from 1971 to 1985. The Dennis
    Brutus Papers comprise correspondence, papers associated with specific
    organizations and events, and numerous drafts of poems, both handwritten
    and typed. The bulk of Brutus's correspondence falls within the period
    1960-1973, and consists of family and other personal correspondence,
    correspondence related to teaching positions, and individual folders for
    correspondence with key persons. The Papers also contain much
    sports-related material, including but not confined to the International
    Committee Against Racism In Sport (ICARIS) and the South African
    Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC). Brutus's work with the
    International Defense and Aid Fund and other anti-racial groups is
    documented as well. There are also a number of notebooks and daybooks
    with poetry and journal entries from the 1960s. A large portion of the
    Papers consists of manuscript drafts and typescripts of Brutus's poetry,
    including a small number of complete manuscripts of published poetry
    works. (Source: collection finding aid.)

    Archive Of: South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee
    Medium: 38 boxes
    Catalog Info: Opens PDF file
    Catalog/Finding Aid: Repository: Northwestern University Library, University Archives
    Deering Library, Room 110, 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208-2300

    Archival Collection Name: Dennis Brutus (Schomburg collection)
    Location of activities: United States
    Time Period of Collection: 1970 - 1990
    Description: Papers of Dennis Brutus, a South African-born poet and
    human rights and anti-apartheid activist. He founded the South African
    Sports Association in 1961 and the South African Non-Racial Olympic
    Committee (SAN-ROC) in 1963, and was subsequently arrested and jailed,
    placed under house arrest, and banned from all literary, academic and
    political activities. He went into exile in 1966 and has lived in the
    United States since 1970, emerging over the years as a prominent
    lecturer and author, a professor of African literature and a major
    spokesperson in the international movement to end apartheid in South
    Africa. In exile Brutus and SAN-ROC spearheaded a successful campaign to
    ban apartheid South Africa from international sport competitions.
    Brutus, based in the United States, was President of SAN-ROC and Sam
    Ramsamy, based in London, as Chairman. The collection consists of
    personal and professional papers, correspondence, writings, files of
    SAN-ROC and the Dennis Brutus Defence Committee, anti-apartheid posters,
    photographs, recordings, and subject files on Nelson Mandela, human
    rights, South African politics, divestment, apartheid and sports,
    African literature, and the struggle against apartheid in general.
    Photographs, anti-apartheid posters and audio-visual recordings
    transferred respectively to the Photographs and Prints, the Art and
    Artifacts and the Moving Image and Recorded Sound Divisions.

    Archive Of: South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee
    Medium: 19.5 linear feet
    Catalog/Finding Aid:
    Repository: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
    The New York Public Library, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY
    (212) 491-2200

    Archival Collection Name: Dennis Brutus (Worcester State College collection)
    Location of activities: United States
    Time Period of Collection: Mostly 1970s - 1990s
    Description: The collection consists of a range of primary documents
    donated by Dr. Dennis Brutus, a well known poet, anti-apartheid activist
    and human rights defender. He grew up in South Africa and founded the
    South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC) in 1963. His
    anti-apartheid activities led to a sentence of 18 months on Robben
    Island. In 1966 he went into exile and SAN-ROC established itself in
    London. In 1970 Brutus moved to the United States and established a
    stateside SAN-ROC, as well. The archive includes manuscripts,
    correspondence, texts of speeches, travel documentation, publications of
    anti-apartheid organizations and photographs. One box includes material
    on Apartheid and sports, the sports boycott and the Olympics including
    material related to SAN-ROC, the American Coordinating Committee for
    Equality in Sport and Society (ACCESS) and South African Council of
    Sport (SACOS), and also HART in New Zealand and CARE in Australia. There
    are, as well, materials Brutus's involvement with the divestment
    movement in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, the Dennis Brutus
    Collection houses an extensive amount of material related to the Dennis
    Brutus Defense Committee's dealings with the attempt by the U.S.
    government to deport him and the successful campaign to block the
    deportation. The archive includes material Amnesty International and the
    campaign against the death penalty; Brutus served on the board of
    Amnesty International USA. The archive contains numerous interviews with
    Brutus in print, audio and video. Most of the archive is housed at the
    Worcester State College Library but some material is at the Center for
    the Study of Human Rights. See Dennis Brutus at Worcester State College
    (Source: Wayne Kamin, archivist, and Aldo Guevera, Human Rights Center
    coordinator at Worcester State College)
    Includes Materials Of: South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee
    Medium: 5,000+ documents, audio, video, photographs
    Catalog/Finding Aid:
    Restrictions: These materials are now available for access by scholars,
    students, and independent researchers from outside Worcester State. For
    permission to examine the collection, please contact Dr. Guevera at the
    Center for the Study of Human Rights (508) 9... or Dr. Donald
    Hochstetler, Director, Learning Resources Center.
    Repository: Worcester State College Library
    486 Chandler Street, Worcester, MA 01602-2597

    Dennis Brutus Online Photo Archive

    Dennis Brutus Events

    Dennis Brutus memorial, 11 March 2010

    Dennis Brutus tribute, with SMI & Durban community groups 23 January 2010

    Dennis Brutus honored by War Resisters League, 18 September 2009

    Dennis Brutus: Reconciliation and the Work of Memory in Post-apartheid South Africa, 3 April 2009

    Dennis Brutus celebrations, honorary doctorates, 16- 18 April 2009

    Dennis Brutus at Jubilee SA 10-year anniversary celebration, Johannesburg, 29-30 November 2008

    CCS celebrates Dennis Brutus's 84 birthday 28 November 2008

    Dennis Brutus at Boston 'Encuentro5', 23 November 2008

    Dennis Brutus at Worcester State College 17 -20 November 2008

    Dennis Brutus on Apartheid Reparations 26 September 2008

    Dennis Brutus plays Marx in Soweto at Brecht Forum 23 September 2008

    Dennis Brutus at the Jubilee South Africa National Conference 21-24 August 2009

    Dennis Brutus poetry at Annual Diakonia Lecture 14 August 2008

    DENNIS BRUTUS, on Steal This Radio, 15 July 2008

    Dennis Brutus at TIAA-CREF shareholder meeting, Denver, 15 July 2008

    Dennis Brutus poetry in Philadelphia, 11 July 2008

    Dennis Brutus and Patrick Bond at the CT Book Fair 17 June 2008

    Dennis Brutus at Split the Rock poetry festival, 22 March 2008

    Dennis Brutus Dennis Brutus says 'No thanks' to SA Sports Hall of Fame, 5 December

    Dennis Brutus is Marx in Nairobi, 25 November 2007

    Dennis Brutus at the Ken Saro-Wiwa celebration in CT, 22-23 November 2007

    Dennis Brutus at the Ilrig conference on the G20, 15 November 2007

    Dennis Brutus Marx in Swaziland, 4 November 2007

    Dennis Brutus & Patrick Bond at Friends of the Earth international conference in Swaziland, 4 November 2007

    Marx @ KwaSuka - Dennis Brutus plays Karl Marx, 26 & 28 October 2007

    Dennis Brutus: 'Karl Marx @ UKZN', 25 October 2007

    Dennis Brutus at Christopher Okigbo celebration in Boston, 20 September 2007

    Dennis Brutus at Fort Hare, 29 August 2007

    Other Dennis Brutus Material & Links


    CCS Honorary Professor Dennis Brutus is still advocating reparations for corporate profits made during apartheid, and in early September the SA government finally agreed he's right to do so.

  • News coverage

  • Background reports by Patrick Bond and Khadija Sharife

  • Apartheid victims take on multinationals State believes litigation is right forum. New look at case bolsters bid for claim
    By Wiseman Khuzwayo (Sunday Independent Business Report) 6 September 2009

    The lawyer for Khulumani Support Group, which represents the survivors of apartheid brutalities who are claiming reparations against eight multinationals, believes that the government decided not to continue opposing the litigation after having a proper consideration of the facts and issues on the matter.

    Charles Abrahams said the government would have considered the amended claim that whittled down the multinational conglomerates from 20 to eight and the judgement of the New York court of April 8.

    The amended claim substantially narrowed the issues and the causal links between the products supplied by certain corporations.

    The judgement said that the plaintiffs could continue their claim on the basis of gross violations of human rights under the international law.

    Nicola Fritz, an executive director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, said causality would be crucial to the proof of the claim.

    "Did these companies know that their products or services were being used in the gross violation of human rights? Were they sufficiently central in the commitment of these gross violations? These are the questions the court will want answered in order to determine the causus nexus," said Fritz.

    She added: "These are companies that should have known about the atrocities of apartheid. They profited from the misery of millions of South Africans.

    The Khulumani Support and 13 individuals have lodged a claim for damages of more than $400 billion (R3.1 trillion) in a New York district court.

    One of the plaintiffs is Dennis Brutus, who was banned from teaching, publishing poetry, and attending meetings.

    The government of former president Thabo Mbeki opposed the lawsuit and wrote to the court to say it "is not and will not be party to litigation against companies that did business with and in South Africa during the apartheid period".

    But now Jeff Radebe, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, has written to the court saying that the government believes that the court is the right forum to hear the litigation and even offered the government as a mediator should the parties so wish.

    Fritz said it was irresponsible of the government to support the reparations claim, while at home it refused to prosecute the perpetrators of gross human rights violations.

    The conglomerates that are being sued in the class action are Barclays, Daimler, Ford, Futjitsu, General Motors, IBM, Rheimetall and UBS.

    Fritz said if the claim succeeded, she imagined that the money paid as compensation would not be given to individuals, but to a trust for community uplifment.

    She said that in the US it was not unknown for corporates to settle out of court and cited Shell Petroleum as an example.

    On June 8, Shell agreed to pay $15.5m to the families of members of the Ogoni people in Nigeria in a lawsuit for complicity in human rights abuses.

    This was the second major payment made by a multinational conglomerate accused of complicity in human rights abuses as a result of litigation in the US.

    Both claims were made under the Alien Tort Act.

    The claim by the South Africans is also under the same law, which allows foreigners to claim for violations that took place outside the US.

    The Wiwa et al vs Royal Dutch Petroleum was filed by the Centre for Constitutional Rights in the US. The oil company was charged with complicity in human rights abuses against the Ogoni, including summary execution, crimes against humanity, torture, inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest, wrongful death, assault and battery, and infliction of emotional distress.

    The landmark case was Unocal Corp, which in December 2004 said it would settle human rights lawsuits brought by 15 villagers from Myanmar, who claimed it was responsible for forced labour, rapes, and a murder allegedly committed by soldiers along the route of a natural gas pipeline.

    Neither Unocal nor lawyers representing the plaintiffs would disclose details of the settlement except to say that the company would pay the plaintiffs an unspecified amount of money and fund programmes to improve living conditions for people in the region surrounding the pipeline.

    The 77-page amended claim by the South African plaintiffs says that the companies supplied armaments, military vehicles and computers for the racial passbook systems to the security forces.

    They provided not only practical assistance to the South African security forces, but material, logistical, and other practical support, which had a substantial effect on the commission of these crimes.

    It says the abuses the plaintiffs suffered were a reasonably foreseeable result of these companies' collaboration with the security forces of South Africa's apartheid regime.

    In return, the corporations benefited from apartheid and, consequently, the violence and terror that was used to maintain and enforce it at the expense of the plaintiffs and members of the class action.

    "Defendants knew that the actions of the South African security forces constituted violations of international norms towards plaintiffs and the classes, but nevertheless provided such assistance with the knowledge and/or purpose of facilitating those crimes," says the claim.

    It continues: "Beginning in 1950, the world community condemned apartheid and the acts of violence and terror committed by the South African security forces to enforce and maintain apartheid as crimes in violation of fundamental, internationally-recognised human rights.

    "The world community specifically identified the manufacturers of armaments and military vehicles, the technology corporations that designed and supported the racial passbook systems, and the banks that funded and collaborated with the security apparatus, as closely connected to the South African security forces and their violent acts.

    "Defendants were on notice that their involvement violated international laws and constituted knowing participation in and or aiding and abetting of the crimes of apartheid; extrajudicial killing; torture, prolonged unlawful detention; and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."

    Radebe mediates apartheid lawsuit: Justice minister’s involvement marks a new approach for SA on class-action case against multinationals.
    Ernest Mabuza (The Weekender) 5 September 2009

    REPRESENTATIVES of multinational companies facing a lawsuit for allegedly aiding and abetting the apartheid government and the claimants met Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Friday night in a bid to reach a settlement.

    Radebe met representatives of the claimants earlier in the day.

    The justice minister this week wrote a letter to the New York court hearing the lawsuit — in which the claimants are demanding up to 400bn in reparations — offering to mediate .

    Khulumani Support Group, which brought the class action suit on behalf of a group of victims of apartheid, says Radebe’s letter followed representations made by the multinationals to settle the matter out of court .

    This is in stark contrast to the position adopted by former justice minister Penuel Maduna, who joined the multinationals to oppose the lawsuit when it was lodged in 2002, on the grounds that it might undermine foreign investment in SA.

    In April the Southern District Court of New York dismissed some of the claims against corporations merely accused by the claimants of doing business with the apartheid government of SA.

    The surviving claims are against companies accused of aiding and abetting very serious crimes such as torture and extrajudicial killing committed in violation of international law by the apartheid regime.

    Radebe’s letter indicated that the claimants were amenable to having the matter resolved out of court. “The government of the Republic of SA welcomes this development and would be willing to offer its counsel to the parties in pursuit of a settlement, if requested to do so by both parties,” the letter read.

    Khulumani Support Group MD Marjorie Jobson says the corporations sent representatives to Radebe a few weeks ago with a view to reaching an out-of-court settlement.

    Khulumani is willing to explore that option.

    Jobson says Radebe indicated a very clear position by government that it regarded the remaining claims as serious violations of international law.

    Radebe’s spokesman, Tlali Tlali, says the South African government is available to facilitate a settlement between the parties.

    He says that when the claim was filed in 2002, there were references to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, and the government considered these references to be sensitive.

    Tlali says that the change in the government’s approach this year came after the claimants revised their application.

    “Dynamics were different then than they are now.

    “We have always indicated our availability and willingness to mediate. We are meeting the representatives of the litigants on both sides. The wheel is in motion,” Tlali says.

    Khulumani’s lawsuit was filed against 23 corporations and banks on the basis that they had aided and abetted the apartheid government in gross human rights violations. It was brought on behalf of 87 people against multinational companies including BP, Daimler, General Motors, Ford, Rheinmetall, Shell and Total.

    Judge John Sprizzo dismissed the suit in November 2004, saying that forcing companies to pay reparations would hurt foreign investment in SA.

    Khulumani lodged an appeal with the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled in 2007 that the Alien Tort Claims Act provided jurisdiction for the case to be heard.

    The corporations filed a motion in November 2007 to stay that decision, pending their petition to the US Supreme Court.

    In May last year, the Supreme Court ruled that it lacked the necessary quorum of six justices to issue an opinion.

    In law, when the Supreme Court lacks a quorum, the lower court ruling is affirmed.

    The corporations then filed a motion to have all the claims dismissed . Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in April that five of the claims had merit.

    “Claims that a corporation that aided and abetted particular acts could be liable for the breadth of harms committed under apartheid have been rejected,” Scheindlin said in the judgment.

    “What survives are much narrower cases that this court hopes will move toward resolution after more than five years spent litigating motions to dismiss.”

    Lawyers for the claimants filed an amended complaint in May .

    It lists Daimler, Ford, Fujitsu, General Motors, International Business Machines and Rheinmetall as defendants.

    The lawyers sought compensatory and punitive damages arising out of the unlawful behaviour of the companies.

    Among other things, they claim that the companies produced parts for vehicles which were used to carry out the assassinations of anti-apartheid activists and the shootings of black South Africans during apartheid.

    Khulumani’s attorney, Charles Abrahams, says that last month the corporations brought an application to stay the proceedings, and his clients are opposing the application.

    Abrahams says Khulumani met Radebe on Friday.

    While he is not at liberty to disclose the details of the meeting, he describes it as “fruitful”.

    Help for apartheid victims
    By Anna Majavu 4 September 2009

    President Jacob Zuma has won praise from people tortured by the apartheid state security forces.

    This was after the news this week that he would support their bid to sue eight American companies for reparations.

    General Motors Corporation, Barclays Bank, Fujitsu, UBS, Ford Motor Company, IBM, Rheinmetall Group AG, and Daimler AG are facing charges in New York’s US Southern district court of aiding and abetting the apartheid regime in committing human rights violations.

    Among other things the companies produced parts for vehicles that were used in the townships to carry out the assassination of liberation movement activists and random shootings against blacks.

    There are 26 plaintiffs left in the case, which was lodged in 2002 by the Khulumani Support Group and Lungisile Ntsebeza, brother of leading lawyer Dumisa Ntsebeza.

    The Thabo Mbeki-led administration opposed the case, saying it was bad news for foreign direct investment.

    The administration even applied in 2006 to be a friend of the court, on the side of the US firms and against the South African victims.

    But this week Justice Minister Jeff Radebe sent the court a letter announcing that Zuma supported the lawsuit.

    One of the plaintiffs in the case, Mpho Masemola, 44, was in matric in 1985 when he was arrested and charged under Section 29 of the notorious Internal Security Act.

    “I was tortured and sentenced to 5 years on Robben Island. I have shrapnel and a bullet in my skull .

    Those companies must pay for the interruption of my education because had I not been arrested I would have been a doctor by now,” Masemola told Sowetan.

    John Ngcebetsha, an attorney for Ntsebeza, welcomed the government’s move. He said he expected to “unearth significant evidence of corporate complicity in apartheid”.

    Eastern Cape firms face TORT lawsuit
    Daily Dispatch 3 September 2009

    LAWYERS descended on East London this weekend to recruit complainants in a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against some of South Africa’s top international firms.

    They include Mercedes- Benz, IBM, General Motors and Ford, for their role in aiding the apartheid regime.

    This follows the April landmark ruling in a United States court that gave advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza and his legal team the right to sue multinational corporations that knowingly “aided and abetted” the apartheid government.

    Ntsebeza and lead attorney John Ngcebetsha of Ncebetsha Madlanga attorneys met potential complainants at Gompo Hall in Duncan Village at the weekend .

    “There might be employees here who say they were working for Mercedes-Benz and that while they were working they were involved in the manufacture of vehicles used by the South African Defence Force for the suppression of human rights .

    “The rights of the workers were suppressed by MBSA because it was supporting apartheid forces,” Ntsebeza said.

    He said those who witnessed companies building armoured military vehicles used by the apartheid regime should come forward.

    The lawsuit accuses MBSA of supplying apartheid forces with armoured Unimog military vehicles, which were used to suppress public meetings and marches in the country.

    GM and Ford are also accused of “aiding and abetting torture … extrajudicial killing and apartheid”.

    IBM is accused of providing technology used by the apartheid regime in displacing South Africans to Bantustans.

    “These companies are not being fought for doing business in South Africa but for working with the apartheid government and leaving people injured and without jobs.

    “We have to show that there was a relationship between the companies and the government,” Ntsebeza said.

    There are currently 13 complainants in the lawsuit, with the claim initially submitted at 400billion (about R3.1 trillion).

    Ngcebetsha said, however, it would be for a jury to decide on a fixed amount.

    Ntsebeza said the importance of the case was that it would force multinational corporations intending to invest in countries to first investigate if a country was not violating human rights.

    Their American counsel, clinical director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Tyler Giannini, said the case was important in developing international law .

    “It is seeking redress for the survivors of crimes during apartheid. Allegations against the companies are sufficient for us to proceed to the next stage ,” Giannini said.

    Former MBSA worker Michael Ngalo, who is one of the complainants, said: “I am optimistic that we can win. I was fired for standing up for workers’ rights in 1990. ”

    The class action lawsuit was brought in 2001 by Ntsebeza, with University of Cape Town sociology professor Lungisile Ntsebeza as lead plaintiff , under America’s Alien Tort Statute , which allows foreigners to bring human rights claims in American courts.

    Claims were initially dismissed in 2004 by US district judge John Sprizzo but the class action suit was reinstated on April 8 by Southern District of New York Judge Shira Scheindlin .

    Scheindlin found that the companies engaged in aiding and abetting apartheid, torture, extrajudicial killings and other crimes and could therefore be held accountable.

    Contacted for comment, GM communications manager Denise van Huyssteen said she would comment today .

    MBSA’s corporate communication specialist, Annelise van der Laan, said she was not at liberty to comment as the case was against Daimler, but would ask the German-based spokespersons to comment .

    Attempts to contact Ford and IBM were unsuccessful. - By THANDUXOLO JIKA

    High Court Reporter

    Fixing the Legacy of Apartheid
    Khadija Sharife (Foreign Policy In Focus) April 29, 2009

    It’s still there nestled in a box as a painful keepsake: the “none blacks” placard I stole as a toddler from the door of a café in Durban, where my mother — who easily passes for a European — met a white friend for coffee. “My four-year-old daughter did that for fun,” the café owner explained. “They know not to come here.” That wasn’t strictly true: the flapping kitchen door revealed a black woman wearing a hairnet, gloves, and an apron: less a human being than a human resource.

    Of course, that world of apartheid — of racial domination via political and military subjugation — is long gone. Yet after more than 15 years, several democratic elections, and countless celebrations of political legends such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Steve Biko, the economic system that underpinned the apartheid regime has yet to be acknowledged — or fully laid to rest.

    But with a recent ruling that opens the way for suits against the transnational corporations that supported apartheid, the South African government must now confront the economic skeletons in its closet.

    Economic Compromises
    Soon after the 1985 crash of the South African stock market and the government-imposed moratorium on repaying $14 billion in outstanding debt, former president Thabo Mbeki negotiated several “historic compromises” on the part of the African National Congress (ANC). In this way, the new South African government obtained political freedom but at a price: economic capitulation. This was, according to noted academic and commentator Ali Mazrui, “Black people assuming the crown of political power and white people retaining the jewels of economic prosperity.”

    These compromises included a blanket corporate amnesty and the ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the precursor to the World Trade Organization). The new government also honored all apartheid-era debt (estimated at $24 billion in 1994). Finally, South Africa accepted the structural adjustment-like policies of international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund’s 1993 “Christmas gift” of $850 million with its built-in economic austerity and the Growth, Employment, and Redistribution Program, formulated under the eye of the World Bank that endorsed the inherited policies of the apartheid regime.

    The apartheid regime, falsely packaged as a pure pigmentocracy, relied overwhelmingly on corporations anxious to access South Africa’s vast stores of natural resources. There was gold and diamonds. There were deliberately cheapened sources of labor. And there was a huge market for banking, oil, automotive, technology, and other products and services. This corporate lifeline financed, facilitated, and sustained a regime that the UN declared a crime against humanity. Apartheid-era Prime Minister John Vorster identified this corporate support as the “bricks in the walls” of the regime’s “continued existence.”

    This regime and its rand lords have receded into the annals of history. Yet the global apartheid enforced by dollar lords via the Washington consensus has never really left.

    But this may soon change.

    Let the Lawsuits Begin
    Several weeks ago, U.S. Judge Shira Scheindlin gave the green light to plaintiffs litigating multinationals charged with aiding and abetting the apartheid regime. Though Scheindlin pared down the reparation lawsuits, she found that automotive, technology, and defense corporations such as Daimler, IBM, Fujitsu, Ford, General Motors, and Rheinmetall did indeed knowingly aid and abet a regime that engaged in torture and extrajudicial killings.

    This should not come as a surprise: Prime Minister P.W. Botha’s Defense Advisory Board, for example, composed of top business leaders from Barclays, Anglo-American, and other corporations, advised him from the inside on the apartheid regime’s security policies that were integral to industry.

    The U.S. and South African governments blocked the initial lawsuits filed in 2002 by South African writers and activists such as Lungisile Ntsebeza and Dennis Brutus as well as Jubilee South Africa and the Khulumani Support Group. Initially, the South African government under former Minister of Justice Dullah Omar had vowed to remain neutral. That would change after Colin Powell, on behalf of the Bush administration approached Omar’s successor, Penuell Maduna, in 2003. Prodded by Washington, Pretoria ultimately invoked national sovereignty in opposing the lawsuits.

    The South African government claimed that such legal actions would discourage foreign investment. It also argued that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) had already addressed reparation issues. Finally, it suggested that the case — to be prosecuted via the Alien Tort Claims Act — amounted to judicial imperialism. In this way, the South African government undermined the constitutional rights of its citizens to seek redress through legal means. This stance was a key component of the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss.

    The government’s objections don’t hold water. In her decision, Scheindlin quoted former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz’s argument that “suits seeking to hold foreign companies accountable for their unlawful collaboration with a prior regime will not discourage foreign investors from investing in that country in the future.”

    Moreover, the TRC has a different perspective than the government on this matter. Though mandated to investigate individual wrongs, the TRC submitted an amicus brief in August 2005 arguing that multinationals never applied for amnesty; that lawsuits on the part of private citizens neither undermine nor conflict with the constitution, courts, or government or with the processes of the TRC; and that private corporations may be held legally and legitimately accountable as a matter of civil law.

    “To the contrary,” wrote Scheindlin quoting from the TRC’s report, “such litigation is entirely consistent with these policies and the findings of the TRC.”

    Sadly, on narrowing claims, Scheindlin dismissed the accountability of the banking sector, although foreign banks repeatedly financed and rescheduled outstanding debt. As late as 1989, foreign banks collaborated to reschedule $8 billion in outstanding loans on very lenient terms. They provided no such leeway for the liberation government.

    Civil Society Triumph
    That Scheindlin is willing to hear the case signals a triumph for civil society. It represents a global victory for human and environmental rights activists and for the many victims of the apartheid regime.

    Tens of thousands of South African plaintiffs now hope for a settlement. In addition to Judge Scheindlin’s decision, there has been political change in Washington and Pretoria: President Barack Obama once lobbied for corporate divestment from apartheid South Africa and apartheid foe Jacob Zuma will be taking office as South Africa’s president on May 9.

    While the ANC’s basic economic structure remains largely intact, Zuma has stressed that by setting priorities such as a strong safety net and investing in job creation, the ANC can make a difference. There’s no indication as yet regarding Zuma’s position on the reparation lawsuits.

    And yet, regardless of the government positions, this landmark decision sets a global precedent for corporate accountability and transparency. By finally laying to rest the ghosts of apartheid, the lawsuit may well usher in similar moves targeting the economic systems of global apartheid.

    It’s time for South Africa to be the compass of the world — again.

    Foreign Policy In Focus guest columnist Khadija Sharife is a journalist and visiting scholar at the Center for Civil Society (CCS). She’s based in South Africa.


    Can Reparations for Apartheid Profits be Won in US Courts?

    Apartheid Reparations and the Contestation of Corporate Power in Africa

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