pay up for apartheid

AFTER seven years of waiting Elizabeth Moleko's hope in the international justice system has been renewed.

AFTER seven years of waiting Elizabeth Moleko's hope in the international justice system has been renewed.

She wants the multi-nationals that helped prop-up apartheid to pay so that ordinary people like her can be compensated for having borne the wrath of the apartheid regime.

Moleko, 62, of Sebokeng in the Vaal, is one of the 13 South Africans who have filed a lawsuit against giant international companies that allegedly did business and benefitted from the apartheid government.

She survived the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. After being identified by the police as a troublemaker, she was detained and tortured. She lost her son, who was allegedly shot by the police in the early 1990s.

"I was in Standard 6 (Grade 8) at the time when they dragged me out of the classroom and beat me to a pulp. I never went back to school because I was scared they would come back. In 1986, I was arrested and tortured after being accused of distributing pamphlets to people, encouraging them to boycott the apartheid government. I was left with a paralysed right arm. But when they killed my son, that was the worst," she said.

The companies being sued include computer giant IBM and motor manufacturing companies Ford and DalmerChrysler that designed and manufactured military vehicles used by the regime and a German company named Rheinmatallo, which supplied weapons.

This week, American lawyers representing the 13 applicants in the infamous apartheid lawsuit started consultations with them in Johannesburg.

The New York supreme court gave the go-ahead to the lawsuit in May, seven years after the application first tried to be heard in court. The trial is scheduled for later this year.

They believe that the companies should be held accountable for crimes suffered by apartheid victims as they benefitted.

On Tuesday, the complainants were in consultation with lawyers at the Human Rights Commission offices in Parktown, Johannesburg.

One of the lawyers, Steig Olson, said the companies had tried everything to stop the case, including approaching the New York court where they lost.

"Next week we will be receiving documents and statements from the applicants. This will be the first time that these documents are released to us. If the trial does go to court, the victims will all testify by telling their stories," Olson said.

He said the matter was being heard in the US because it is the only country that allows such a case to be heard.

Among the applicants are widows of political activists, former political prisoners, parents whose children were killed or disappeared and victims who experienced the injustices of the system.