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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Apartheid victims sue big business
ANC election posters, South Africa
South Africa's first all-race elections were held in 1994
A group of South Africans are seeking billions of dollars in compensation from foreign corporations for the "blood and misery" which they allegedly caused by doing business with the apartheid regime.


We want reparations from those international companies and banks that profited from the blood and misery

Lulu Petersen
A team of American and South African lawyers is about to file a $50bn class action suit in New York against Swiss and US banks accused of backing the former apartheid regime.

The emerging figurehead for the plaintiffs is the sister of a 13-year-old boy shot dead by police in South Africa 26 years ago.

Standing at the site of the shooting in Soweto, Lulu Petersen said she was hoping that the white regime would be brought to justice.

Plaintiffs and allegations
Lulu Petersen: 13-year-old brother killed by police
Sigqibo Mpendulo: twin 12-year-old sons killed during a police raid
Lungisile Ntsebeza: detained, tortured and banished
Themba Makubela: banished
She is one of four apartheid victims suing Citigroup, the largest financial institution in the US, and Swiss banking giants Credit Suisse and UBS for allegedly profiting from loans to the white South African government while a UN embargo was in force.

In Switzerland, the US lawyer Ed Fagan, who is leading the case, was heckled as he arrived to present details of his lawsuit.

Lawyers for the group hope hundreds and thousands of people will join the class-action case.

Hector Petersen
The picture of Hector Petersen's body became a symbol against oppression
Ms Petersen said: "The four plaintiffs represent a class of people we believe will number in the thousands.

"We want reparations from those international companies and banks that profited from the blood and misery of our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters."

Hector died after police began firing tear gas and live bullets at thousands of students taking part in anti-apartheid protests in Soweto.

Phone hotline

A picture of Hector being carried by a running man became an international symbol of the struggle against apartheid.

The lawsuit is expected to be filed in New York on Monday.

The lawyers plan to argue that the banks helped prop up the apartheid regime with loans and other business deals worth billions of dollars, even after the country was under a UN embargo.

A special telephone hotline has been set up in South Africa for victims who want to join the case.

One of the senior lawyers in the case, Professor Dumisa Ntsebaze, told the BBC: "The multinationals and banks knew that the UN had condemned apartheid as a crime against humanity.

"We believe that there is a statute in the US that can be used by any person to proceed against people that have been complicit against crimes against humanity."

His colleague, Mr Fagan, was heckled and jeered at by angry crowds as he arrived in Zurich's financial centre to present details of his lawsuit.

The American lawyer has angered the Swiss in the past.

In 1998 he represented Holocaust victims and their relatives in a $1.25bn settlement against the Swiss banks, triggering widespread international criticism of Switzerland's record during World War II.

A spokesman for UBS said it considered the case to be totally without merit and added that the bank would fight with every means available.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kirsty Lang
"Lawsuits like this could deter banks, in future, from investing in developing countries"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Apartheid
Should the victims get compensation?
See also:

17 Jun 02 | Africa
16 Jun 02 | Africa
14 Feb 02 | Business
18 Dec 01 | Business
19 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
27 Nov 00 | Africa
26 Dec 99 | Africa
16 Feb 99 | Truth and Reconciliation
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