Divestment Groups Plan More Public Activism

Second in a series on Harvard's investments in companies with South African operations. Today: student protest of Harvard's investment policies. Next: the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility.

SEVEN YEARS AGO, 3500 students filled Harvard Yard, carrying torches, pickets and bullhorns, dreading that Harvard divest of its stock in corporations that do business in South Africa. Hundreds of people camped out on the steps of University Hall. Activists swarmed around President Bok when he crossed the Yard, refusing to let him into his Massachusetts Hall office and forcing him to set up shop in Holyoke Center.

Two years ago, campus activists opposed to Harvard's policies organized rallies that drew hundreds. They founded a novel and successful alternative senior gift fund called that Endowment for Divestiture--money from which will not go to Harvard until it divests. And about seven students staged a brief hunger strike to protest Harvard's South Africa-related investments All those moves attracted substantial attention from news organizations across the United States and in South Africa.

While the level of campus activism on the divestment issue has receded from the heights of 1983, Harvard divestment activists hope the appearance of the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at a student-led rally in April (see story, page one) will rejuvenate a movement that has in the past decade been a focal point of vigorous student protest.

"We plan to cause enough fuss this spring to bring this issue back unto the national press agenda," says Damon A. Silvers '86, member of the Southern Africa Solidarity Committee (SASC). "The spring of '85 is going to see the campus divestment movement going into full-court press," adds Michael T. Anderson '83-84, a member of Harvard Law School's divestment committee and a founder of the Endowment for Divestiture.

WHILE A WAVE of protest against the racist, oppressive South African regime has gathered strength across the nation over the last six months. Harvard's roughly $565 million of investments in companies with South African operations continue to come under particular attack from students.

Harvard argues that its policy for dealing with such investments is sound and ethical. The University requires its portfolio companies with South African operations to sign the Sullivan Principles and Tutu Principles, which call for reforms in the workplace and active opposition to apartheid laws to improve the status of Black South Africans.

If these companies fail to sign or live up to the policies, Harvard enters into so-called intensive dialogue with them, demanding to see if they are working "seriously" to institute reform. If they refuse to give such information, Harvard will divest of the stock. Last month, Harvard announced the first instance in which it had divested of a stock because the company failed to provide such information, and also announced that, after pressing them, 11 companies had adopted Harvard's ethical standards for their South Africa dealings.

Further, Harvard argues that complete divestment would be an inappropriate step for the University to take as an institution devoted to education, and that it would be an ineffective way to battle apartheid because divestment would have only limited and symbolic value. President Bok has repeatedly told divestment activists that they should focus their efforts on getting the federal government to ban American investment there instead of on Harvard's relatively small investment portfolio.

Divestment activists retort that however much American corporations do to improve the liver of the fewer than I percent of the country's Black workers they employ, they contribute directly to the apartheid state. American companies, they say, sell the white minority regime the vehicles, fuel and electronic equipment it needs to enforce apauheid.

Moreover, the American presence lends credibility to the system, they say. And Harvard--through owning stock in such companies--directly helps buttress the lated system.

"South Africa is the premier acist police state in the world, and Harvard, through its investment portfolio, has a unique role in sustaining that system" says Jamin B. Raskin '83, a founding member of SASC.

As far as Bok's advice, SASC members and others insist that Harvard is worth pressuring, "Harvard is first and foremost an educational institution, the purpose of which is to inquire for truths. Nothing runs more counter to this ideal than supporting a country that operates on lies, on slavery and genocide," says current SASC member and Black Students Association Vice-President Anthony A. Ball '86. "We focus on Harvard because Harvard is a national issue ... and other schools care about what Harvard is thinking."

"American companies in South Africa are propping up a racist regime. In downtown Johannesburg, on one street you see a 'whites only' sign, and then on the next a Coke billboard," Ball says.

"We're not, as we're often accused, advocating divestment that would occur in a vacuum. Intend it has to be looked at in the context of a nation wide trend, Harvard's divestment would be a drop in the bucket, but no one would disagree that once you have a whole lot of drops in the bucket, it tips over," says Ball. "Neither are we calling for a quick fix, a cure-all for Apartheid that will alone cause a transferral of South Africa overnight. What we are saying is that Harvard can't shirk its responsibilitity to play a part along with individual church groups, states, and voters who are also awakening to responsibilities."

THE DIVESTMENT MOVEMENT at Harvard was born in 1972, when 30 Black students occupied Massachusetts Hall for a week in an attempt to force Harvard to sell $21 million worth of Gulf Oil stock. Gulf at the time had operations in the then-Portuguese colony Angola, and students said Harvard's investments constituted direct support for colonization of Africans because Gulf paid taxes to the white Angola, regime. In response to that and other protests, Bok formed the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), a 12-member body composed in equal parts of students, faculty and alumni, to give Harvard non-binding recommendations on ethical issues.