Bank reparations are sought for apartheid-era dealings

February 28, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

GENEVA -- Swiss and German bankers played a key role in propping up South Africa's apartheid government, according to a report last week by groups seeking billions of dollars in reparations and debt forgiveness for the current South African government.

When most governments around the world were boycotting South Africa under United Nations sanctions, major Swiss and German banks continued to give billions of dollars in loans, the groups said.

American banks started to scale back their involvement in South Africa from 1985 to 1986, but money continued to flow into the country.

This report focuses only on Swiss and German involvement. Researchers said they wanted to leave the in-depth work on American and British involvement to researchers from those countries.

Whatever the source, the money helped the white-minority government survive and left South Africa with a substantial debt that undermines the new government's ability to turn around the economic and social situation it inherited, the researchers said.

"We are asking that the Swiss government and banks explain how this happened," said Mascha Madorin, an economist with the Swiss Action Financial Center. The demand by her group, part of a coalition of eight nongovernmental groups, that Switzerland be held accountable in South Africa comes on the heels of disclosures about Swiss banks' dealings with Nazi Germany.

Although the study does not call for a specific amount of debt forgiveness, Gottfried Wellmer, who wrote the study, said an appropriate amount for Switzerland, Germany, Britain and the United States would be $11.3 billion, South Africa's public debt in 1993, the last year of apartheid.

Swiss banks have said they were against apartheid but were free to conduct business in South Africa. As a neutral country, not a member of the United Nations, Switzerland declined to impose sanctions.

Pub Date: 2/28/99

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