Harvard to South Africans: Let Them Eat Yellowcake
HARVARD'S DIVESTITURE of $50 million in Citicorp stock came after a long and arduous battle. For those who remember, the issue was South Africa and $350 million worth of Harvard investments in corporations whose South African operations strengthened minority rule in the apartheid state. In 1978, 4,000 students physically demanded divestiture, but Daniel Steiner, general counsel to the University, and the Corporation out-papered and out-waited most of the students. Now, finally, they made a move. Citicorp was loaning funds directly to the South African government, and that is where the Harvard Corporation appears to have drawn the line. To those of us who, post-1978, are still in circulation, the recent divestiture is gratifying, but we're still hungry.
In Harvardese, money may be money, but to the South African government and U.S. State Department, some money is more important than other money. Foreign policy, now, as always, is not conducted for humanitarian reasons, but for reasons of power and finances. South Africans' white supremacy used to be based on diamonds and gold. Today it is uranium, converted into plutonium and then nuclear weapons, that most strengthens minority rule. Harvard's holdings in uranium companies represent a $100-million investment in South Africa's nuclearization.
DON MORTON is a soft spoken South African exile. Like many other white South African men, he has refused conscription in what he considered to be an immoral war--white against black. To Morton, the question is one of power. That power comes and begins with uranium. South Africa has a plentiful supply of uranium, as well as its own enrichment plants, and can produce all the weapons-grade material that it wants. It also has weapons and delivery systems to launch strikes into any part of Africa that it chooses. When the inevitable showdown in Southern Africa finally arrives in its fullest, the white regime will be able to threaten the people of the continent with nuclear Armageddon. Indeed it is doing so already. "South Africa's nuclear dominance is the result of a conscious decision of the regime to achieve military supremacy..." says Morton.
Today, only the United States and Canada produce more uranium than South Africa. By the mid-1980s, South Africa aims to be the second largest producer. In order to up those uranium production figures, South Africa's government will need some financial assistance. In this, Harvard's stock holdings may be of some assistance. "It doesn't matter where the companies Harvard is operating in are located," says Mabilo Mabeta, a graduate student who lives at South House. "Owning stock in uranium is the same as owning stock in oppression."
In order to up its uraniun production figures, South Africa's government will have to expand its military presence--now 70,000 troops--in neighboring Namibia, where South Africa, Britain, and a number of more discreet governments get their uranium in defiance of United Nations sanctions. Not only does uranium mining perpetuate South Africa's domination of Namibia, it continues to be a means for oppressing Blacks at home.
"They've got to either starve them into the underground, or stick a gun to someone's head to make them work in those mines," Mabeta says. Accident rates in the uranium mines are high, working conditions are abominable, living conditions are almost as bad, and wages are slave-wages. "It's like working in a large bowl of oatmeal," explained Stan Barnhill, director of New Mexico mining operations for Gulf Oil. The worst part is that after breakfast it gets worse. Uranium miners have one of the highest disease rates in industry--by low estimates, one out of six miners dies from radiation-induced lung cancer.
An invisible plague, radiation-related disease is not isolated to miners. People residing within uranium mining districts have twice the propensity to contract cancers as the general population, the Department of Energy estimates. While studies on the effects of radiation on South African blacks are not available, figures on North American Indians document a stark reality. The Navajo reservation at Tuba City, Arizona is adjacent to an enormous uranium mill tailing pile. During a six month period in 1980, 63 birth defects were reported in the baby clinic at the local Indian hospital, a large number in a small population.
Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico suggested the only humane solution to the uranium problem in a 1978 report: ...perhaps the solution to the radon emission problem is to zone the land into uranium mining and milling districts so as to forbid human habitation..."
It is no coincidence that the Rossing mine of Namibia--South Africa's major source of production--is now the largest uranium strip mine in the world. Nor is it a coincidence that Rossing's predecessor in this dubiously prestigious position was the Jackpile Mine at Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico--operated by Anaconda for the Atomic Energy Commission, and now by ARCO (the parent) for anyone who wants uranium. As Morton points out, "There is a relation between racism and uranium."
As irony would have it, Native Americans inside both the United States and Canada live on reservations where a significant portion of North American uranium resources are located. Millions of acres of Canadian Indian reserves are under lease for uranium exploitation; in 1976 alone more than 30,000 mineral claims were staked, primarily uranium.
Harvard's investment finance the mineral exploitation of South African bantustans--as well as domestic ones in North America, paving the way for future nuclear development. As Morton comments, "We get so caught up in the scientific minutiae about "nukes" and related fields that sometimes we feel that we lose sight of the fundamental questions. If we could win the struggle to keep uranium in the ground, then we would indeed have sliced off the head of the nuclear industry and weapons threat." If uranium continues to be mined, it will be used.
At Harvard, both neutral money in the uranium industry and neutral intellectual thought about the issues of racism and energy development are non-existent. While Harvard helps to finance the energy and weapons race, students on campus are informed of benevolent divestitures and kind donations of (possibly) $70,000 for a potential Third World Center. Somehow between the paperwork, committees, and sub-committees Harvard's complicity in racist, lethal investments continues. Humanitarianism, liberalism, the intellectual process, and our collective survival are betrayed again.
Winona LaDuke '80-3 has spent the past two years trying to halt uranium mining on Indian reservations.
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* Yellowcake: The usable product of uranium milling operations, later converted into plutonium