Settlement sets hopeful precedent for apartheid victims
Mark Fransch stood in silence, facing the TV flickering in front of him. Splashed across the screen was the face of his 20-year-old brother Anton. ‘Wanted”, it read. ‘Terrorist”, it read. In an instant the television programme, Police File, had changed the Fransch brothers’ lives forever.
Anton had skipped the country and was on the run, the presenter announced. But standing shoulder to shoulder with Mark (24) in their Bonteheuwel home on the Cape Flats was Anton, in the flesh.
Of course Anton then fled the country. It was the 1980s in apartheid South Africa, after all.
‘We had no idea where he went to for two years. He was gone, but we understood why,” Mark told the Mail & Guardian this week.
In April 1989 Anton returned to South Africa. He made his way back to Cape Town with a fellow Umkhonto weSizwe operative, Yazir Henry. Security police had traced Anton to a house in Athlone, Cape Town, after arresting and interrogating Henry.
Minutes after midnight on November 16 1989, police surrounded the quiet double-storey house in Church Street, Athlone.
A seven-hour gun battle ensued. At 7.45am a loud explosion stunned the neighbourhood into silence and brought the gunfire to a halt.
‘That morning I woke up and I went to work. I didn’t even know it was him. At about 10 o’clock in the morning a newspaper phoned me to tell me that Anton was dead,” Mark said.
A deeply flawed police inquest into the death of Anton Fransch concluded that he had blown himself up with a grenade.
Mark and Anton’s mother, Georgina, will receive R10 000 as a result of this week’s settlement between General Motors in the United States and the Khulumani Support Group, a lobby group for financial reparations for victims of apartheid.
Twenty-five South Africans who suffered at the hands of the apartheid security police will be paid after a US court ratified the settlement. It is claimed that various corporations produced parts for military vehicles that were used by the apartheid police to carry out brutal raids and assassinations of activists.
In a ‘show of good faith” General Motors negotiated a ‘without prejudice” settlement with the claimants, which was finalised by a US court on Monday. The victims are represented by Lungisile Ntsebeza and the Khulumani Support Group. The M&G understands that the total amount of the settlement is $1.5-million, to be split between the Khulumani group and the claimants represented by Ntsebeza.
The lawsuit was first lodged in November 2002 and there are still cases pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in New York against the Ford Motor Company, IBM, Daimler AG and Rheinmetall, said Charles Abrahams, attorney for Khulumani.
‘It’s far from over, but we hope that this settlement motivates the others to reconsider their positions,” Abrahams said. A law in the US called the Alien Tort Claims Act, which seeks to codify customary international law, protects basic human dignities. It allows non-US citizens to bring cases against non-US citizens in a US court.
Shirley Gunn, director of the Human Rights Media Centre in Cape Town, appealed to the government to support the claimants as they continued their class action suit.
‘People are frail. They are literally dying while waiting for this to be resolved. Two of the claimants have died already and the rest are very old. The big companies come in with a team of legal representatives. It really is a case of David versus Goliath,” Gunn said.