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Anglo America and De Beers Face Lawsuit

April 7, 2003

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Lawyers for former diamond workers in South Africa have filed a $6.1 billion class-action lawsuit against mining giants Anglo American and De Beers for alleged mistreatment of workers under the former racist apartheid regime, a lawyer said Monday.

The suit follows the recent release of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report which said that businesses who profited under apartheid should pay reparations or face lawsuits from victims.

The commission specifically mentioned Anglo American, the country’s largest mining company, as an example of a corporation whose profits were enriched by ``the systematic violations of human rights.″ Anglo American has a 45 percent stake in De Beers.

Black Anglo American and De Beers workers were paid less than their white counterparts, beaten and intimidated when they tried to unionize, and were not compensated for workplace injuries, said John Ngcebetsha, a South African lawyer representing former employees here.

Ngcebetsha claimed the companies helped initiate the pass system that required blacks who worked in white areas to carry passes proving their employment.

Blacks and whites were not allowed to live in the same areas under apartheid, the racist white regime that lasted from 1948 to 1984. Many families were split up when men got passes to work.

The suit was filed in a Nevada court, Anglo America’s base in the United States, according to Ngcebetsha. It wasn’t immediately clear which court in the state was handling the suit.

Officials from both Anglo American and De Beers rejected the suit, and said the issue of reparations should continued to be addressed within South Africa.

``The question of whether reparations to individuals is an appropriate or effective way to assist in the rebuilding of South Africa is a matter to be resolved through South Africa’s democratic processes .... such a debate must take place (here),″ said a statement by Anglo American. ``Not with lawyers purporting to seek resolution of such matters in foreign courts.″

A similar statement was issued by De Beers, which added that the company ``believes the complaint to be entirely without merit.″

The suit was filed by Ngcebetsha’s American colleague, Ed Fagan, a U.S. attorney who gained fame for a landmark suit against Swiss banks and corporations that won a $1.25 billion settlement for Holocaust victims.

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