Apartheid Lawsuit Filed Against De Beers

In the latest in a growing list of lawsuits, De Beers and its partial owner, Anglo-American, are being sued by former mine workers who charge the companies violated their rights during the apartheid era.

The $6.1 billion suit was brought by Ed Fagan, the media-savvy and controversial attorney who successfully sued Swiss banks to obtain reparations for Holocaust survivors.

The suit was filed in Nevada, Anglo-American’s home base in the United States. It charges the two companies with paying black workers less than their white counterparts and keeping them in conditions “tantamount to slavery.” Fagan did not return requests from JCK for comment but told the Scottish national publication The Scotsman: “If [De Beers and Anglo] want to come to the table, tell them to bring $3.1 billion to $6.1 billion, and then there is something to talk about.”

In response to the suit, De Beers told JCK: “[De Beers] believes the complaint to be without merit. … The consequences of apartheid [are] an important issue for South Africa, which has been addressed, and should continue to be addressed, by the government and people of South Africa.”

The filing comes on the heels of a report from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that calls for businesses that profited under apartheid to pay reparations. Yet the lawsuit has caused considerable soul-searching within South Africa, with some worried about its economic repercussions. Anglo-American’s stock plunged following announcement of the suit, as did the stocks of leading South African companies that investors fear will be next.

South African president Thabo Mbeki recently said in Parliament that the lawsuits “were completely unacceptable” because matters central to South Africa’s future should not be “adjudicated in foreign courts which bear no responsibility for the well-being of our country and the observance of the perspective contained in our constitution of the promotion of national reconciliation.”

De Beers managing director Gary Ralfe also told Reuters: “During the long apartheid years, my company was a force for good. It did not exploit or profit from apartheid.” He added that Fagan should bring suit against the “perpetrators of apartheid [but] he won’t do that because they don’t have money to pay.”