General Motors to Compensate Apartheid Victims

A portion of the settlement money will be used to establish a trust for others who suffered under the system.

Posted: 03/01/2012 02:40 PM EST
South Africa, Africa, Global News, apartheid, human rights, racism

U.S. automaker General Motors will pay up to $1.5 million to more than 20 apartheid victims for its role in supporting the racist regime in South Africa.

"GM wants to carry on with their business in South Africa and wants to settle their scores and maintain good relations with the country's people," said Shirley Gunn, who was detained and tortured, according to Reuters. "But we are very grateful and can seriously start to redress the legacy of apartheid."


With the help of the South African human rights organization Khulumani, victims sued GM and more than 20 other companies for their involvement in “aiding and abetting” the human rights abuses of the apartheid regime. Among the claims, they alleged the companies were liable for human rights violations including assassination and murder, indiscriminate shooting, prolonged detention without trial, torture and rape.

Of the initial lawsuits, however, only five remain accused of the violations — General Motors, Ford, Daimler, German defence group Rheinmetall and IBM.

According to Reuters, General Motors claims the settlement will be less than $1.5 million and was agreed to by a trust set up after the company declared bankruptcy in 2009. GM also said its decision to settle is in no way an admission of wrongdoing.

Still, the Khulumani and the victims are counting this one as a victory. “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,” Khulumani national director Dr Majorie Jobson told the Cape Times.

The $1.5 million offered by GM will be awarded in the form of shares in the company, which will be converted into the best monetary offer and transferred into a trust account for the 25 plaintiffs.

While each plaintiff will take home a portion of the settlement, they won’t share it all. Some of the settlement funds recovered will be used to establish a Reparations and Rehabilitation Trust to assist other victims of apartheid.

Abolished in 1994, apartheid was a system of racial segregation and opression enforced by the white-minority leadership of South Africa, which began formally in 1948.

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 (Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

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