The Power Of Protest
THE 3500 PROTESTERS who marched through Cambridge last Thursday night following the release of the Harvard Corporation's decision on its South Africa investments bear clear witness that the Harvard community will not accept that decision. The United Front acted swiftly and decisively to organize Thursday's and previous anti-apartheid demonstrations, and they deserve high praise for marshalling impressive and peaceful demonstrations.
Despite the United Front's effors, however, the Corporation's decision--which calls for a case review of the more than 60 company portfolios with South African operations--is wholly unacceptable. No amount of well-crafted verbiage can reconcile the decision with the United Front's three minimal demands, or even with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR).
Rather than assuming a leadership role in the struggle against apartheid, the Corporation has chosen to continue its indirect support of the Vorster government, once more affirming that Harvard places concern for profits ahead of concern for human lives. At the very least, the Corporation should cease to justify its decision on the basis of moral concern for the "tragic and deplorable situation" in south Africa. While an explanation in terms of financial pressures would be no more palatable, it would not be quite so insulting the community's intelligence.
It would be a mistake, however, to regard the demonstrations as futile efforts in the light of the Corporation's seemingly unalterable decision. They provide added encouragement for similar movements at other schools, and because of the media attention large demonstrations receive, public awareness of anti-apartheid sentiment is bound to increase.
And clearly, with regard to students, "persuasion" is an empty word. While calm dialogue with administrators is useful, and hopefully will continue in the future, it is only naive for students to expect much to come of such exchanges so long as administrators bring to them the kind of defensive, uncommunicative attitude that characterized President Bok's address to the Quincy House seniors Monday night. Students must not accept the meek, passive role the University seems intent on having them play with regard to policy. While it is impossible to predict the shape of Harvard's anti-apartheid movement in the fall, students must not acquiesce to the April decision, for to do so would be a tacit acceptance of Harvard's South African policy.
Finally, Harvard students should recognize their strength on this issue. More than half of all undergraduates marched together Thursday night, united in their opposition to a decision they find repugnant and inhumane. In the future, however, the organization spearheading the movement against Harvard's South African investments should be closer in concept to a single body. For all the protests of the past months to have full impact, the movement must continue to grow, and that calls for unswerving attention to a single goal: Harvard and U.S. dollars out of South Africa.