oneworld.net | 10.10.2002 09:53
Today, outside Cape Plc's AGM, ACTSA campaigners protested in anger at Cape's failure to pay the compensation promised to 7,500 South African asbestos claimants last December.
Outside the meeting, Cape's board members and shareholders were unable to avoid stark reminders of the legacy of death and devastation it left behind in the South African communities. Protestors, dressed all in black, held up urgent calls from the claimants to pay up now before more lives are lost, as well as striking photographs of the suffering in the communities.
Inside the AGM, ACTSA played a recording of angry and emotive messages from some of the claimants themselves, including Hendrik Afrika, the first claimant to file a case against Cape. Aditi Sharma, ACTSA's Head of Campaigns, who attended the AGM said, "Today's meeting was yet another example of Cape's shocking reluctance to accept responsibility for the thousands of lives it has shattered. There is a real danger of the case going back to court and Cape and its shareholders must act swiftly to prevent this. For South African communities living with the legacy of asbestos, justice delayed is a justice denied."
After delaying justice for five years, Cape finally agreed a settlement of £21 million on 21 December last year, with the first instalment of £11 million due to be paid by the end of June. But nearly a year later, several deadlines have passed and Cape has not paid a penny. Despite this, Cape will today release a statement restating its commitment to the settlement.
When asked about Cape's responsibility towards compensating the communities for the devastation it created, Cape's new Chairman Gyllenhammar, simply replied, "Life is not fair". Cape has so far blamed the delay in payment on its Banks, which include Barclays Bank Plc, who have refused to extend their credit to finance the necessary restructuring of the company, a move Gyllenhammar described as, "tight-fisted" during the AGM today.
ACTSA has been in touch with the communities as well as the South African government who had hoped that this would be "a watershed meeting which will once and for all resolve the impasse." Hundreds of people have already died in the communities waiting for compensation. Many of the claimants have taken out loans since last December in expectation that the money would soon arrive, which is now driving them further into poverty as they are unable to pay them back. The people in the communities are extremely poor and even the relatively small sums of money that the Cape could offer them would make a real difference to their lives.
For further information contact:
Clare Riches Tel: 020 7833 3133 / 07909 787288
Aditi Sharma Tel: 020 7833 3133 / 07810 810793
Messages to the Cape AGM from South Africa
"Please ask the Board, on behalf of myself and the millions of South Africans affected by the asbestos mining, to think of the children losing curators, breadwinners, their parents and caregivers, and thereby being deprived of the future. Most of them will have to leave school now and replace their parents' roles. These children may themselves be infected as they continue to be exposed to asbestos dust."
Ngoako Ramatlhodi, Premier of the Northern Province.
"So many of our people are dying. People here are becoming impatient. People are very sick and very tired. We understand that the Cape Plc management are human beings and they must come to their senses and honour the agreement so these people that are suffering can see what justice means."
Shadrack Molokoane, Mathabatha Health and Asbestos Association (MHAA), Northern Province.
"I had to resign to look after my sister, then my sister passed away as a result of asbestos, leaving me to look after three children. Our household is without any source of income. It's a struggle to put food on the table - not to mention the education costs of the three children left behind. I did not get a proper education because of the early death of my parents because of the asbestos. Please find it in your hearts to acknowledge our situation and act like the people who do care"
Shirley Celento, South African claimant, Prieska.
"I would like to know from Cape Plc why they did not meet the agreement? Why did you make a legal agreement in the first place? We have been waiting for money since June this year. We'd like Cape Plc to honour their agreement. People are still dying. We cannot take this any more"
Hendrik Afrika, South African claimant, Prieska.
Notes to Editors
1. ACTSA, successor to the Anti-Apartheid Movement, campaigns for peace, democracy and development in Southern Africa. ACTSA's briefing on this case, "Apartheid's Killer legacy" is available at www.actsa.org
2. Cape mined and milled asbestos in South Africa's Northern Province and Northern Cape for over 90 years until 1979, when it closed its operations. ACTSA has led the public campaign in Britain to hold Cape accountable for exposing South African workers to asbestos thirty times above the British legal limit without adequate protection, despite the known dangers. To date, Cape has settled British cases for compensation but has used every legal loophole to shirk responsibility for the thousands of South African victims
3. ACTSA and its supporters have written to the Chair of Barclays Bank Plc to express concern about Barclays' role in the collapsed settlement and to urge the Bank to face up to its social responsibilities by ensuring that the blighted communities in South Africa receive the compensation owed to them without further delay.