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Diamond Giants’ Lawsuit and Workers of De Beers and Black Anglo American

2003: Diamond Giants’ Lawsuit and Allegations on the Officials

May 2003

Diamond giants Anglo American and De Beers face a $6.1 billion lawsuit from former mine workers who complained of their treatment under the South African apartheid regime.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States in Anglo American’s U.S. home base of Nevada, follows the recent release of the South African government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, which said that businesses who profited under apartheid should pay reparations or face lawsuits.

According to lawyers, Black Anglo American and De Beers workers were paid less than their white counterparts, and were beaten and intimidated when they tried to unionize.

The suit also contends that Anglo American and De Beers helped initiate the pass system that required black workers 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, which lasted from 1948 to 1984, so many families were separated when the men got passes to work.

Officials from the two mining companies denied the allegations, and added that they though the issue of reparations should be settled in the South African courts only.

The suit was filed by Ed Fagan, a U.S. attorney who led the landmark suit against Swiss banks and corporations that won a $1.25 billion settlement for Holocaust victims.

The suit is somewhat surprising, given long-time De Beers chairman Harry Oppenheimer’s vocal and often brave stance as a prominent critic of apartheid. But whether his opposition existed alongside discriminatory practices in De Beers’ mines will be in a judge’s hands to decide.


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