Harvard's Share in Apartheid

On July 16, 1977, Harvard University awarded an honorary degree to Albert Gordon '23, chairman of the board of directors of Kidder Peabody. It was exactly one year after South Africa's township exploded in rage against the racist apartheid system. Since the strikes in Soweto began, thousands of protesters have been killed, wounded or jailed without trial by South Africa's white minority government. But big U.S. companies like Kidder Peabody have refused to end their involvement in South Africa. Harvard's links to U.S. corporations tie the University to oppression in South Africa--a tie symbolized by Gordon's award. Yet the Harvard Corporation has consistently refused to sell out of companies involved in South Africa, or even to support shareholder motions for withdrawal from that country.

The Apartheid System

The role of U.S. corporations in South Africa can only be understood in the context of apartheid, which is based on a system of enforced migrant labor. By law, Africans--80 per cent of the 24 million people in South Africa--may be "citizens" of less than 13 per cent of the country's land area, regions designated as "Bantustans." These impoverished and scattered pieces of land have no large towns and little industry or resources.

If he wishes to live outside the Bantustans, an African must work for a white. In the "white" areas--which contain all the country's major industry, towns and agriculture--Africans may not own houses or land, or, often, live with their families. They must live in segregated townships, for which the regime provides tiny houses, usually without running water or electricity. But the poverty of the Bantustans forces thousands of Africans to shuttle back and forth to the towns, taking any job offered, at any wage.

The system is enforced through the hated pass laws. Every African adult must always carry a "pass"; if caught without one in a "white" area, they face criminal charges or deportation to the Bantustans, where there is almost no hope of finding a job. It makes no difference if the pass was simply forgotten while going to the corner store for cigarettes or to visit friends. Africans who have lived in the city all their lives may be deported to starve in a Bantustan, a "homeland" they have never seen. Over a thousand people are prosecuted every day under the pass laws.


Apartheid requires rigid classification of races and a host of humiliating laws to back it up. Every South African is registered by race: white, Coloured, Asian or African. Skilled jobs are frequently reserved for whites. Marriage or sexual relations across the color line are illegal, with long jail sentences attached. Africans may only go to special "Bantu" schools, designed to train them as servants in white-owned in dustry; blacks must pay for their education, while whites get it free. "Bantu Education" features classes in housework and 60 children to a classroom.

Integrated trade unions are banned. Black organizers are harassed, imprisoned and murdered. African strikes are illegal.

Through this kind of legally-enforced racism, apartheid ensures low wages for blacks. The average income in the Bantustans is estimated to be about a third of the Poverty Datum Line (PDL), the minimum needed for survival. (It is generally conceded that 150 per cent of the PDL is needed for a decent life, as the PDL makes no provision for things like medicine, education, furniture or recreation). About a quarter of the Africans living in the Bantustans are both landless and jobless. Death reigns in the barren huts: half the children die before age six; starvation, malnutrition and diseases like tuberculosis are common. A study in the early '60s found that in some Bantustans, mothers and children ate only three times a week.

Things are not so much better for blacks in the townships outside "white" cities. Eighty per cent of the Africans there earn less than the PDL; four-fifths of African workers show signs of malnutriton.

And this is not the Sahel; South Africa is the most industrialized country in Africa, no longer considered a "developing country" by international organizations.

Opposition to the South African regime is illegal. People can be arrested and detained without trial at the whim of the Justice Minister, who does not have to give any reasons. They can be sentenced to life imprisonment or executed under the Sabotage and Suppression of Communism Acts, which define any attempt to change the status quo as "communist." Under such laws, the African National Congress of South Africa--the party of national liberation--was outlawed in 1960, and many opposition leaders--among them Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Bram Fischer--sent to jail for life.

But the regime cannot stamp out resistance to apartheid. Illegal strikes and demonstrations are growing in strength; and the ANC continues to work underground.

U.S. Corporate Involvement in Apartheid

U.S.-based transnational corporations have greatly aided South African industrialization. U.S. involvement in South Africa has grown especially rapidly in the last ten years, as apartheid has been more and more strictly enforced. Direct U.S. investment more than doubled between 1969 and 1975, to reach $1.6 billion in 1975, or 40 per cent of all U.S. investment in Africa. If indirect investment--channelled through Europe and Canada--were included, this figure would be much higher. More than 300 U.S. companies are involved. But 13 of them--including seven of the ten largest in America--account for three quarters of all U.S. investment in South Africa, and Harvard has holdings in 12 of those 13. In other words, U.S. investments in South Africa are controlled by a very few firms, and Harvard owns large shares in most of them.

U.S. firms have invested heavily in manufacturing in South Africa, a sector they have avoided elsewhere in Africa. Seventy-five per cent of U.S. investment in African manufacturing is concentrated in South Africa. Under pressure from the white minority regime, U.S. firms have introduced advanced technologies and helped set up basic industry in South Africa, although they refuse to do the same elsewhere on the continent. Often they work in partnership with South African state and private companies.

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