The Legacy of Apartheid

BERLIN/PRETORIA (Own report) - Twenty years after South Africa held its first free elections (April 27, 1994), German corporations have definitively eluded demands to pay damages to the victims of the apartheid regime, they had supported. Whereas, a court in New York ruled last week that lawsuits against two US companies, for complicity in apartheid's institutions of repression, cannot be thrown out, similar lawsuits brought against German companies have been dismissed. The German government had also intervened in favor of dismissal of the reparations lawsuits. West German companies had been a mainstay of support for the apartheid regime. Daimler, for example, was "a vital partner of the South African war industry," according to an international anti-apartheid activist. West German companies had even expanded their businesses, when companies from other western countries were beginning to withdraw due to mounting international pressure. In South Africa, German companies have been able to maintain their strong standing, established also through collaboration with the apartheid regime, even after the collapse of the system of apartheid. The social legacy of apartheid, which these companies help maintain, characterizes the South African society to this day, confirmed the long-time managing executive of the West German Anti-Apartheid Movement, Ingeborg Wick, in her conversation with

Reparations Lawsuit in the USA

Twenty years after South Africa held its first free elections - whose anniversary is celebrated this Sunday, April 27 - US companies are still on trial for complicity in apartheid's institutions of repression. As a judge in New York ruled last week, the pending lawsuits brought against Ford and IBM by victims of apartheid cannot be dismissed. Both companies had supplied South Africa's military and police forces with vehicles and computers in the 70s and 80s. They had, thereby, not only provided Pretoria with the means for its bloody repression, but also contributed to the stabilization of that racist regime. The objections raised by Ford. and IBM, to the effect that the 1789 "Alien Tort Claims Act" (ATCA) applies solely to persons and not companies, was overruled by judge Shira Scheindlin in New York.[1] This ruling gave hope to victims of apartheid that they may still be able to receive indemnities from the United States. The perspective of receiving indemnities from Germany is no longer open.

German Government Intervention

Originally, German companies had also been included in the apartheid victim's 2002 class action lawsuit filed in the United States. The Deutsche Bank, which had provided extensive credits to the apartheid regime, was among those named. In 2009, the cases were purged to only include those companies, which had directly supplied the regime's institutions, such as Düsseldorf's arms producer Rheinmetall and Stuttgart's Daimler Group. But they could depend on German government support. The government intervened with an Amicus Curiae Brief to the Supreme Court in 2012, declaring that this case is outside the jurisdiction of the US system of justice, the ATCA should be more narrowly interpreted, according to reports.[2] In fact, Judge Scheindlin ruled in December 2013 that the class action suits against Rheinmetall and Daimler were inapplicable. No German company is now being sued for its support for the apartheid regime.

Vital Partner

For a long time, some of these companies had been considered important pillars of the apartheid regime. Particularly, the Daimler Group, which, for example, had supplied at least 2,500 Unimogs to the South African army - after a UN arms embargo had been imposed in 1978. These Unimogs were equipped with rocket launchers, explained publicist Gottfried Wellmer, who had comprehensively investigated West German business dealings with apartheid South Africa.[3] "Daimler is a vital partner of the South African war industry," concluded Abdul Minty, director of an international Anti-Apartheid Organization in the late 1980s, as calls for boycotting South Africa were intensified to a global scale. "And if there is an international company, which could weaken the army of the apartheid state, it would be Daimler Benz."[4] Under the influence of CEO Jürgen Schrempp, Mercedes Benz South Africa rejected all calls for limiting its South African business. Cooperation with the regime paid off: Mercedes Benz South Africa's business volume with the racist state grew significantly - from 540 million DM in 1978 to 1.7 billion DM in 1984.

"Shot Kaffers, Had a lot of Fun"

Those affected by apartheid have explained the racist every day life, which had also shaped the conditions in the Daimler factories. Not only the canteens, toilets and washrooms were - as usual - segregated, but Black trade unionists were forced to submit to special restrictions. The police arrested Black union leaders during strikes, torturing them in police stations. A former Mercedes worker has reported on reservist police officers, who were employed as white-collar professionals in the South African Mercedes Benz subsidiary: "These Mercedes managers, who were wearing nice suits and neckties during the day, put on camouflage uniforms at night to go shoot unarmed youth, old people and even small kids. They killed them. They made door-to-door raids. There was much resistance at the time. The next day, we heard these reservists bragging in Afrikaans in the factory, "we shot many Kaffers and we had a lot of fun!" According to the report, 20 to 30 Mercedes foremen and managers, all of them White, went on those "missions" to the townships in their free time.[5]

Honorary Consul

Mercedes Benz South Africa had to face no reprisals when the apartheid regime, which it had supported, collapsed. Last year, the company increased its sales by more than 25 percent - to nearly four billion US dollars. Just recently, Daimler invested 300 million US dollars in South Africa to extend its production capacities from 60,000 to 100,000 units. Jürgen Schrempp, who, during apartheid, had been a member - and temporarily Chair - of the Board of Mercedes Benz South Africa, was named in 1995, chair of the German Daimler Group and is, today, Chair of the "Southern Africa Initiative of German Business (SAFRI) and Honorary Consul of the Republic of South Africa. Daimler is but one example of the numerous West German companies, which had made lucrative deals with the apartheid regime and were even able to expand, when, in the late 1980s, companies from other western countries - e.g. UK and USA - had begun to withdraw due to international pressure.[6] Today, with its close ties to Pretoria, the German government is trying to get the government of South African to side with its foreign policy. ( reported.[7]) The German foreign ministry succinctly states: "South Africa is Germany's most important partner in sub-Saharan Africa."[8]

No Redistribution

Still remaining is not only German influence in South Africa - an influence that is part of the political legacy of close collaboration with the apartheid regime. Also remaining is the dramatic social legacy bequeathed by that racist system, with which West Germany and Daimler along with other West German companies had maintained a lucrative cooperation. Of course, the end of apartheid has meant "enormous political progress" for "the people of South Africa," explains Ingeborg Wick, in her conversation with However, economically, "apartheid is omnipresent:" "For example, it is obvious in the unjust distribution of land, the mass unemployment or the scandalous discrimination in the educational and health systems."[9] Wick points out that a "redistribution policy" that would have improved conditions - as had been enacted in 1955 in the ANC movement's Freedom Charter or again in the Reconstruction and Development Programme in the late 1980s -"yet to be implemented." The former collaborators with apartheid share the blame. The "policy of redistribution" has also been blocked because of strong "pressure from western countries."

[1] Apartheid lawsuit case not going away, says Ntsebeza. 18.04.2014.
[2] Regierung schützt Daimler. 10.04.2012.
[3] See Incriminating Documents.
[4], [5], [6] Birgit Morgenrath, Gottfried Wellmer: Deutsches Kapital am Kap. Kollaboration mit dem Apartheidregime. Hamburg 2003.
[7] See Junior Partner South Africa (I), Junior Partner South Africa (II) and Sprungbrett Südafrika.
[8] Südafrika: Beziehungen zu Deutschland.
[9] See Dem Apartheid-Staat eng verbunden.