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GM to pay out for apartheid role

Industry news

 

More than 20 apartheid victims represented by human rights group Khulumani will receive compensation from car manufacturing giant General Motors after a lawsuit was filed against the company for its aid in the apartheid regime.

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(FILES) This April 8, 2009 file photo shows the General Motors logo on display at the New York International Auto Show in New York. The United Auto Workers (UAW) said on September 28, 2011 its members employed by General Motors have approved the union's new four-year contract with an overwhelming majority. The 2 billion USD contract covers more than 48,000 workers at GM and is effective immediately, the UAW said. GM is the first of the US "Big Three" automakers to clinch a new UAW contract, while it continues negotiations with Ford and Chrysler. AFP PHOTO / Files / Stan Honda

General Motors has offered a settlement nearly a decade after Khulumani lodged a case against various alleged apartheid collaborators for their role in “gross human rights violations”.

This week, General Motors offered to compensate plaintiffs in the South Africa Apartheid Litigation case in the form of $1.5 million (R11.2m) worth of shares in the company. The Khulumani Support Group lodged a case in November 2002, which originally included nearly 100 plaintiffs, charging 23 companies for perpetrating human rights violations.

Khulumani and the plaintiffs – victims who had been tortured or whose relatives had been killed – filed the lawsuit saying a number of international companies knowingly helped the apartheid government by selling it weapons and armoured vehicles. The democratic SA government initially opposed the lawsuit, saying it would discourage investment.

However, when Jacob Zuma was elected president the government threw its support behind the class action brought by victims of apartheid crimes including torture, rape, denationalisation and detention without trial. In April 2008, a ruling by District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan narrowed the number of respondents to five companies, Ford Motor Company, IBM, Daimler AG, GM and Rhenmetall.

On Wednesday, Khulumani national director Dr Majorie Jobson welcomed the offer by the GM group and said she hoped its settlement would set a precedent for the other companies to do the same.

“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,” Jobson said. “It is a very generous offer and we are grateful for the wonderful gesture.”

 

The shares offered by GM will be placed into a trust fund of US law firms Hausfeld LLP and Nagel Rice LLP, which represented the plaintiffs. The shares will then be converted into the best monetary offer and transferred into a trust account for 25 plaintiffs in SA.

Jobson said each plaintiff was expected to get a few thousand rand.

The balance of the settlement would be used to establish a Reparations and Rehabilitation Trust to begin restitution processes that would help other victims of apartheid oppression.

“It is really an exceptional act of goodwill on the part of General Motors, and we hope it creates some leverage, so we call on the other companies to similarly come to the table and negotiate with the lawyers towards reaching a settlement,” Jobson said. - Cape Times

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