Don't Give Up
SOUTH AFRICA LOANS
LAST WEEK'S DECISION by the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility seems a hollow victory at best. The ACSR opted to delay consideration of a proposal to lift Harvard's automatic ban on investments in banks that make loans to South Africa.
Not that we are at all displeased that students can now protest the Corporation's proposal in an open meeting on March 4. Plainly, an open forum is more likely than the closed Faculty Club meeting last week to encourage the ACSR to oppose the recommendation. What distresses us is that, after that session, ACSR members disclosed that the Corporation has already temporarily suspended the automatic divestiture policy, pending the ACSR's recommendation.
That move is unlikely to affect any specific University investments in the next few weeks, but it proves just how strongly committed the Corporation is to scrapping the four-year-old ban, the only concession ever made to students on the issue. Further, it suggest that only the angriest of protests by the ACSR has a hope of reversing the Corporation's fait accompli.
We have long supported complete divestiture of Harvard's holdings in South Africa. The Corporation's 1978 pledge not to invest in banks that loan money directly to the South African regime was a good first step toward that end--especially since removal of Harvard's bank investments represents a more tangible statement than its purely moral votes on ineffectual shareholder resolutions. That the ban on the bank investments was absolute was its greatest strength; as President Bok himself wrote in 1978," ...a general policy of making loans for projects which advance the welfare of the whole population is too difficult to apply in practice."
But in suspending the automatic ban, the Corporation has effectively formalized its distinction between "humanitarian" and other loans, an exercise in line-drawing that seems fundamentally fallacious. Money sent for charitable ends will only free up more funds for the both a regime's program of internal repression and enforcement of apartheid. Harvard can exert its greatest leverage not by reforming South Africa from within--which neither it not Citibank not any other investor has been able to do--but by publicly dissociating itself from that nation and urging others to follow suit.
The open meeting looms as students' last formal chance to prevent the Corporation from taking back the concessions it made to protesters in 1978. It may also, as some have suggested, prove whether the ACSR has any real potency of its own--whether it exists to deflect or reflect student criticism.
The ACSR should have the courage to stand up to the Corporation by registering student concern to it. We urge students and faculty to attend the ACSR's open meeting and to make their voices heard in an effort to influence the Corporation. It could be their last chance.