EXACTLY 19 years ago today, thousands of unarmed South African demonstrators were protesting in Sharpeville and Langa against apartheid's passbook system when police suddenly opened fire on the crowds, killing 69 and wounding 186 others. The rallies against the hated pass laws were part of a nationwide protest campaign spearheaded by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). In the following weeks of protests, South African police killed another dozen blacks and injured hundreds more.
The massacres panicked foreign investors in South Africa, and many multinational corporations, mainly European, started to pull out of the country. The South African government declared a state of emergency which, by banning the PAC and the African National Congress ended all legitimate peaceful black opposition. After Sharpeville, the black liberation movement in South Africa went underground and the attitude of the black majority turned decisively towards armed struggle against the white minority government. At the same time, a group of U.S. banks, corporations, and powerful businessmen like Charles W. Engelhard bailed out Pretoria with a loan of about $40 million and the tacit U.S. support that went with it.
We would do well to remember that it was the economic and political backing of the U.S. and European corporations that enabled the white minority government in South Africa to continue the policies of systematic racism and oppression that inevitably resulted in Sharpeville. The liberation movements in Southern Africa have called for the withdrawal of all foreign corporations, and yet, Harvard continues to advocate that U.S. firms retain their influence in South Africa in order to marginally improve the lives of a few black workers.
We urge all members of the Harvard community to take part in today's Sharpeville commemorative rally at noon on the steps of Memorial Church. In the face of University intransigence, we must redouble our efforts to convince Harvard to divest itself of its holdings in South Africa.
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