The following is the text of the March 12 open letter from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to President Bok.
I congratulate Harvard University on its recently announced divestiture from Baker International, a United States corporation with a subsidiary in South Africa. This represents another important step on the road to ending apartheid in that country. Now I challenge Harvard University to take the leadership on this issue, as Harvard University has on so many issues of concern to educational institutions in the past. To take this leadership the University must completely divest from all those companies doing business in South Africa, for only complete divestiture is a realistic response to United States corporate involvement in that country. From both a moral and a practical point of view it is the only thing to do.
Harvard's scholarships for Black South Africans and perhaps an occasional divestiture from an American company are positive steps, but while the University continues to hold over half a billion dollars in companies doing business in South Africa, these steps will remain little more than tokens. This tokenism is particularly disturbing when is accompanies frequent defenses of investment in South Africa. Harvard does not realize that what is crucial about American companies in South Africa is not so much how they treat their employees, but what they produce, import and invest in. What is crucial is the moral and political support they lend to that fossil of historic the most racist country on the face of this earth, South Africa.
I have often compared South Africa, with its system of apartheid, to apattheid Germany, which was responsible for one of the most devasting in the history of mankind and for the extermination of millions of innocent people. We have no way of knowing how many lives could have been spared had not ITT produced and perfected the communications systems used in Germany bombers and submarines, or bad not RCA, General Motors, DuPont, Chemical or Chuse Manhattan been similarly tied to the Third Reich. We must learn lessons from history.
American companies employ less one percent of the Black South African workforce, and even if they treated their employees fairly, which they, do not, they could not change South Africa through workplace reforms. When an armored car smashes a squater's shock, it does so on American-supplied oil. When the South African police throw a minor in jail for visiting his wife and family without a pass, they obtain his name from an American computer. When the South African government makes plans for energy independence, it counts on American petro-chemical technology. When white South Africans are anxious about their future, American businessmen offer assurances that our government will support their brutality. When Harvard and other wealthy educational institutions defend Americans investment in South Africa, the whole world listen and the days of oppression and injustice are lengthened.
The Americans of my generation know apartheid well. In the South we lived through it, and struggled to bring about its downfalt. Many died in these efforts, martyrs for the cause of equality, just as many Black South Africans today are dying in their struggle. Counted among the leaders in the movements to end apartheid in America were cohege students, of which I was one. It fills my heart with joy to hear of and see students today making such great commitments to assist Black South Africans thousands of miles away in their struggle. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asserter "Injustices anywhere is injustice everywhere."
It surprises me therefore to learn that at a place like Harvard, famous the world over for its excellence, a place where I have spoken any times, these students who are leading the fight to convince the University to play more than 2 passive role in the demise of apartheid have been denied the right to discuss openly their position with the Harvard administrators who are responsible for these short-sighted investment policies. It is all the more surprising after many organizations at Harvard such as your campus United Ministries (which arrange any last visit), Black faculty and administrators, and Law Review, not to mention your own advisory committee on shareholder responsibility, have all spoken out for total divestiture. In encourage the President of Harvard and the other members of the University's governing board to begin a public and serious discussion with these young people.
America is awakening to its complicity in the crime which is apartheid. It would be a travesty if Harvard, America's oldest and most prestigious university, continued to sleep. Harvard must go beyond tokenism; it must reject passivity. The bloodshed at Sharpeville, Crossroads and Soweto is too high a price to pay for an education. Harvard and other universities must cut their ties to South Africa; they must put people ahead of profit, that which is right ahead of that which is convenient. I join the call for total divestiture.