Skewed Scrutiny

Investing in South Africa

THE UNIVERSITY has begun following a policy that spotlights the serious shortcomings of its stance toward South Africa-related investments. The Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility's recent annual report announces a plan to ask companies considering leaving South Africa to describe measures they will take to protect Black workers' rights after they pull out. The scrutiny, Harvard officials said, may lead to divestment from companies departing South Africa if those companies fail to make certain provisions to guarantee Black workers' rights.

This should be a praiseworthy response by the University to U.S. complicity in the brutalization of the South African majority. Had Harvard divested, this policy would have gone a step further in expressing concern for Black South Africans. Instead, since Harvard has divested of only a few of its holdings in South Africa-related concerns, the new policy sends businesses confusing signals about the correctness of the American presence in South Africa.

By taking measures against companies considering moving out of South Africa, Harvard will provide a disincentive for them to do the right thing: stop temporizing and get out. Harvard and other institutions should not--against the clearly stated wishes of those who lead the Black majority--use American dollars to preserve the economic system that props up the minority regime.

Because this new scrutiny is an element of Harvard's misguided policy of constructive engagment, it may actually dissuade companies from leaving. In light of the University's track record on South Africa, this new tack should be regarded with suspicion.