Friday, May 9, 2003

Mines minister rejects use of US courts for reparations

Minerals and energy minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said on Friday she "rejected" the use of United States courts in settling issues of reparations and justice in South Africa.

Mlambo-Ngcuka's rejection echoed President Thabo Mbeki's rejection of the same in Parliament last month when he stated that "the South African government is not, and will not, be party to such litigation".

In a statement issued by her office Mlambi-Ngcuka said she found it unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of the country should be adjudicated in foreign courts, which bore no responsibility for the well being of South Africans.

While the government recognised citizens' right to take civil action, the government was informed by the desire to involve all South Africans, including corporate citizens, in a co-operative and voluntary partnership to reconstruct and develop the South African society.

"Accordingly, the government does not believe that it would be correct to impose the once-off wealth tax."

The Minister added that nobody had "a right to impose a crisis on the people of South Africa, and to undermine the initiative to forge a process of reconciliation that caters for all the people of South Africa".

Although the statement did not say what litigation Mlambo-Ngcuka had in mind, her comments followed in the wake of the latest law suit against a South African company, this time Gold Fields.

The US7,4-million (approximately R53-million) lawsuit was filed by South African attorney John Ngecebetsha and US lawyer Ed Fagan.

Fagan came to prominence after securing compensation from Swiss banks for Holocaust victims.

According to media reports the suit was filed in the Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf of Zalumzi Singleton Mtwesi and more than 500 former employees of Gold Fields.

The suit claimed New York jurisdiction because the company does business in that country.

In it workers claimed they were "tortured, enslaved and poisoned with uranium."

Gold Fields has rejected the charges and disputes the jurisdiction of the US courts.

Fagan filed a similar suit against Anglo American in early April and against a slew of foreign banks and companies active in South Africa in the 1980s earlier in the year - Sapa