Supporters of apartheid might pay

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Doug Krizner: Apartheid is a deep wound on the soul of South Africa. Tens of thousands were killed, tortured, and mistreated under a racist regime.

International sanctions helped bring change and democratic elections in 1994. But survivors of apartheid-era violence say some U.S. companies helped prop up that system. And a landmark New York court decision just opened the door for them to seek damages. Gretchen Wilson reports from Johannesburg.

Gretchen Wilson: The companies named include Exxon, General Electric and IBM.

Marjorie Jobson is with the Khulumani Support Group for Apartheid Survivors:

Marjorie Jobson: The United Nations issued a series of resolutions about apartheid being a crime against humanity, and in spite of those resolutions, these companies continued to trade with, and to benefit from, the apartheid government.

Jobson says they’ve specifically targeted companies that supplied security agencies, with things like oil, weapons and computer technology to monitor people.

One of the plaintiffs is 66-year-old Lizzy Sefolo:

Lizzy Sefolo: During apartheid, I lost my husband. He was tortured and killed by the police. My husband was the breadwinner. My children are not educated. I was a single parent.

Sefolo says her family’s been trapped in poverty ever since.

Not all South Africans support the case, though. The current government is wary of scaring off international investors, and has spoken out against the suit.

In Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

All reporting by Gretchen L. Wilson, © 2007

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