[Marxism] On Dennis Brutus

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 10 14:09:18 MDT 2008

(This bounced from Patrick, I am not sure why.)

Yes, at 83 he's going strong, and Philadelphians on this list can catch 
Dennis tomorrow; below the ad, a piece I did in Counterpunch on Tuesday 
(the court case was postponed until late Sept):

-------- Original Message --------

Moonstone Readings

At Robin's Bookstore

108 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, 215-735-9600, www.robinsbookstore.com

Books & Events for Independent Minds from Philadelphia's Oldest 
Independent Bookstore
Free and open to Everyone

Friday, July 11, 8:00pm
Music and Poetry
Second Friday Live @ Robin's After Hours
Featuring Dennis Brutus And Friends

Ancestor Goldsky (percussion), Byard Lancaster (flute & Sax), NaTanya 
Davina (performance art) and Lamont Steptoe (poet). Followed by a music 
& spoken word open mic. Bring a poem, an instrument and a smile. Cover 
$5. Doors open at 7:30 pm (everyone must be in by 8:15) and then we 
close up shop and Live @ Robin's After Hours begins. Refreshments 
available. Robin's Book Store, 108 S. 13th Street.

Dennis Brutus is a lifelong human rights activist and poet. He is 
perhaps the best-known African poet writing in English, although his 
books were banned for many years in his home country, South Africa. His 
tireless work against apartheid in South Africa got him arrested and 
shot in 1963. He was sentenced to an 18-month jail term of hard labor on 
Robben Island where he broke rocks with Nelson Mandela. He was sent into 
exile in 1966 and proceeded to lead the successful movement to have 
South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) banned from the Olympics and 
other international sporting events. Since then he has remained active 
in struggles for human and cultural rights, including co-founding the 
Pittsburgh Anti-Sweatshop Community Alliance in 2002, connecting 
international solidarity with workers to the philosophy of Black 
Consciousness. He is currently Professor Emeritus in the Department of 
Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He is a great poet and 
one of the few who successfully integrated a life in the arts with a 
life on the front lines of the fight for justice and integrity for 
everyone. Dennis's book include leafdrift and Poetry & Protest: A Dennis 
Brutus Reader.

Email Marketing by
Robin's Book Store | 108 South 13th Street | Philadelphia | PA | 19107



July 7, 2008

A Moral Debt to the African People
Can Reparations for Apartheid Profits be Won in US Courts?


A telling remark about US imperialism's double standards was uttered by 
Clinton-era deputy treasury secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who a decade ago 
was the driver of reparations claims against pro-Nazi corporations, 
assisting plaintiffs to gain $8 billion from European banks and 
corporations which ripped off Holocaust victims' funds or which were 
1930s beneficiaries of slave labor (both Jewish and non-Jewish).

But how about reparations for apartheid profits? As a November 2002 
keynote speaker for the “USA Engage” lobby of 650 multinational 
corporations organised to fight the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), 
Eizenstat warned that South African reparations activists “can galvanise 
public opinion and generate political support,” and “may achieve some 
success despite legal infirmities.”

Six months later, at a Columbia University seminar, Eizenstat noted that 
“Anti-apartheid victims from SA have sued scores of US companies in US 
courts for their alleged - and I underscore alleged - participation in 
facilitating apartheid.” (He prefaced this with a post-racist personal 
explanation for his own Holocaust-restitution zeal, embarrassedly 
recalling a 1950s experience in his hometown: “I was unwilling to break 
with convention and give an elderly black lady my seat on the white 
section of an Atlanta bus.”)

Today, convention has it that the apartheid victims should and will lose 
the lawsuit to be heard in the New York Southern District Court on 
Tuesday, July 8. Attending will be professor Dennis Brutus, the 83 year 
old poet and activist who served time on Robben Island with Nelson 
Mandela, before kicking SA out of the 1968 Olympic Games. Brutus is a 
leading plaintiff, amongst many thousands of black South Africans suing 
three dozen corporations for profiting from a “crime against humanity”, 
as the United Nations termed apartheid.

The ATCA, passed in 1789, says, simply, “The district courts shall have 
original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, 
committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United 
States.” ATCA was meant to get a legal handle on piracy, and in the 
process to persuade colonial powers it was safe to trade with the US.

But only in the last two decades has the law become widely known. 
Encouraged by Burmese villagers fighting Unocal, a case which in 2003 
withstood challenge by the Bush Administration, activists like Brutus, 
Cape Town academic Lungisile Ntsebeza, the Khulumani Support Group for 
apartheid victims and Jubilee SA used the ATCA to sue latterday pirates: 
dozens of multinational corporations operating in SA prior to 1994 in 
spite of calls for sanctions and disinvestment.

But matters were complicated when SA president Thabo Mbeki was requested 
by the Bush administration to oppose Brutus and the other activists in 
2003. Thanks to the overarching imperial-subimperial alliance between 
Pretoria and Washington (as well as the British and German governments) 
on behalf of multinational corporations, Judge John Sprizzo initially 
decided the case on behalf of the defendants in late 2004. He reasoned 
that ATCA conflicted with US foreign policy and SA domestic economic 
policy, and indeed it did insofar as these policies consider corporate 
profits as their first priority.

But last October, litigants won an appeal and in May, when the US 
Supreme Court was expected to finally kill the lawsuit, on behalf of the 
corporations, four of the justices discovered conflicts of interest in 
their own investment portfolios. Because they owned shares in the sued 
companies, the case went back to Sprizzo, in what plaintiff lawyer 
Charles Abrahams argued was “a massive victory for the international 
human rights movement as a whole.”

In contrast, the Washington representative of the SA government's 
International Marketing Council, Simon Barber, was dismissive of the 
litigants' Supreme Court win, citing Mbeki's charge that SA sovereignty 
was violated. In any case, “The endeavour remains quixotic.”

Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern African Litigation Centre, 
disagrees: “Companies that were not perpetrators of human rights 
violations but were complicit in such violations through their dealings 
with oppressive governments are now potentially liable in law for their 

Disincentivizing future profit-taking from dictatorships such as Burma 
or Zimbabwe is a central objective. In mid-2008, just as Robert Mugabe's 
Zanu(PF) paramilitaries committed sufficient murder and torture to 
ensure his “reelection”, thanks in part to Mbeki's perpetual connivance, 
AngloPlats announced a US$400 million investment in lucrative Zimbabwean 
platinum mines.

As Abrahams argues, “The substantive basis of the suit is that foreign 
multinational corporations aided and abetted the apartheid government by 
providing arms and ammunition, military technology, transportation and 
fuel with which the government and its armed forces were able to commit 
the most heinous crimes against the majority of the people of South 
Africa.” (Such corporate work was, for Eizenstat, “alleged” - not 
obvious - facilitation of apartheid.)

Corporations being sued by Abrahams' plaintiffs include the Reinmetall 
Group, for providing arms and ammunition to the Apartheid government; 
British Petroleum (BP), Shell, Chevron Texaco, Exxon Mobil, Fluor 
Corporation and Total Fina-Elf, for providing fuel to the armed forces; 
Ford, Daimler-Chrysler and General Motors, for providing transportation 
to the armed forces; and Fujitsu and IBM for providing the government 
with much needed military technology. Banks financing apartheid include 
Barclays, Citibank, Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, Deutsche, Dresdner, J P 
Morgan Chase and UBS.

Although Mbeki was an exiled foreign representative of the African 
National Congress prior to 1994 and demanded that multinational 
corporations disinvest from SA, in subsequent years he conveniently 
developed amnesia.

In 2001, at the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) here in 
Durban, he censored a suggested clause that the “US should take 
responsibility and pay reparations for the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.” 
In spite of reparations advocacy by Nigeria and other African states, 
Mbeki refused to allow this to be mentioned in the final document, 
calling instead merely for more donor aid.

In April 2003, Mbeki agreed with Bush that it was “completely 
unacceptable that matters that are central to the future of our country 
should 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.”

He expressed “the desire to involve all South Africans, including 
corporate citizens, in a cooperative and voluntary partnership” - but 
failed to reflect upon numerous such attempts by the Reparations Task 
Force and Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, for 
years prior to the lawsuits.

SA trade minister Alec Erwin then insisted that Pretoria was “opposed 
to, and contemptuous of the litigation” by activists. Any findings 
against companies “would not be honoured” within SA.

In July 2003, SA justice minister Penuell Maduna wrote to the courts 
that the case would discourage “much-needed foreign investment and delay 
the achievement of the government’s goals. Indeed, the litigation could 
have a destabilising effect on the SA economy as investment is not only 
a driver of growth, but also of unemployment.”

As a friend of the court on behalf of the claimants (alongside 
Archbishop Desmond Tutu), Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz replied that 
such comments had “no basis,” because, “those who helped support that 
system, and who contributed to human rights abuses, should be held 

Maduna’s letter to the US court requested that the lawsuits be 
dismissed, “in deference to the sovereign rights of foreign countries to 
legislate, adjudicate and otherwise resolve domestic issues without 
outside interference.” (Mbeki and Maduna made no effort to establish 
SA's own ATCA.)

But in August 2003, at the opening plenary of a major Reparations 
Conference, Jubilee SA’s Berend Schuitema reported that Maduna made an 
extraordinary confession: “The reason why he had made the objection was 
that he was asked for an opinion on the lawsuit by Colin Powell. He gave 
Powell his written response, whereupon Powell said that he should lodge 
this submission to the Judge of the New York Court. Howls from the 
floor. Jubilee SA chairperson M.P. Giyose pointed out the bankruptcy of 
the sovereignty argument.”

Within a few months, the adverse implications of Maduna’s intervention 
for international justice became even more ominous, in a case involving 
women victims of Japanese atrocities during World War II. Fifteen 
“comfort women” from Korea, China, the Philippines and Taiwan sued Tokyo 
in the US using the ATCA. In June 2005, the US Court of Appeals in the 
District of Colombia rejected their suit, citing Maduna’s affidavit.

Meanwhile at home, the South African government was unilaterally paying 
just $3500 each to 19 000 families whose members suffered apartheid-era 
murder or torture, considered a paltry sum.

Jubilee then took the opportunity to tackle Barclays in a mass citizens’ 
campaign, in the course of the London financier’s 2005 takeover of SA's 
second-largest bank, ABSA. SA justice minister Brigitte Mabandla 
(Maduna’s 2004 replacement) responded with an October 2005 friends of 
the court brief on behalf of the bank, prompting a demonstration by Jubilee.

Led by Brutus, Jubilee went on to picket eight international banks 
located in Sandton: “These banks gave billions of dollars of loans to 
the Apartheid Government, renegotiated its debts and thus enabling it to 
spend even more on its military, and, in the case of Barclays, gave 
money directly to the South African Defense Force in 1976.”

Jubilee's demand was simple: “All of these banks need to fully apologize 
to the South African people for the support they gave to the Apartheid 
regime, and pay reparations to those who have suffered from its 
actions.” The Washington-based Mobilization for Global Justice and a 
coalition of Swiss activists joined Jubilee protesters in solidarity 

 From Sandton to Washington, Citibank was targeted, for as the UN’s 
Special Committee against Apartheid had observed in 1979, “Citigroup has 
loaned nearly 1/5 of the $5 billion plus which has gone to bolster 
apartheid”. In Berne and Zurich, Credit Suisse and UBS were the subject 
of protest because from the early 1980s they replaced US and British 
banks as the main apartheid financiers.

To be sure, conflict has existed between plaintiffs that makes it harder 
to win the hearts and minds of the broader public. The first set of 
cases were filed by a discredited New York lawyer (active in the 
Holocaust settlement), Ed Fagan, who fell out with Ntsebeza.

Then, between the Khulumani Support Group and Jubilee, tensions arose 
over claims to ownership of the case and over direction of strategy. And 
between Jubilee's former Johannesburg staff on the one hand, and on the 
other, board members and several provincial chapters, a dispute erupted 
that temporarily paralyzed the organization.

Still, Brutus believes the plaintiffs can leapfrog Mbeki to appeal to a 
much richer strand of African nationalism than one that relies simply 
upon an appeal to sovereignty. The Organization of African Unity made a 
case for reparations in the 1993 Abuja Proclamation against slavery, 
colonialism, and neo-colonialism, damage from which is “not a thing of 
the past, but is painfully manifest in the damaged lives of contemporary 
Africans from Harlem to Harare, in the damaged economies of the black 
world from Guinea to Guyana, from Somalia to Surinam.”

A “moral debt is owed to the African peoples”, the Abuja Proclamation 
declares, requiring “full monetary payment through capital transfer and 
debt cancellation.”

In addition, Northern ecological debt to the South must be raised, in 
contrast to dubious climate change policy proposals for “Clean 
Development Mechanism” projects as funding vehicles for Third World 
greenhouse gas reduction.

So the challenge for activists is not only to protest and to deploy 
ATCA, and in the process – as Eizenstat fears – win more hearts and 
minds. It is also to gather more allies across the African continent and 
Third World so that reparations demands can be expanded. In the process, 
these linkages to other constituencies will ensure the struggle becomes 
a broader, deeper critique of economic injustice, at its roots, in the 
profit motive.

Patrick Bond directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of 
KwaZulu-Natal: http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs (this article was originally a 
Zcommunications.org commentary)

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