Betrayal on South Africa


FOR SEVERAL YEARS, students at this University fought to force Harvard out of South Africa. They rallied and marched, they researched and they wrote, they argued, and eventually, they lost. A Harvard Corporation more interested in income than justice refused to get rid of Harvard's holdings; it refused to condemn American investment in South Africa; and in the years since, it has refused to vote for almost any of the innocuous shareholder resolutions concerning the apartheid-ruled nation.

But the students who fought so long did win one thing--a promise from the Corporation that it would no longer keep Harvard's money in banks that loaned funds directly to the South African government. Even for the financiers that run this University, the thought of directly supporting a blatantly racist government was indefensible. And so they did get rid of some notes sitting in the Manufacturers Hanover Trust treasury, and of a sizeable chunk of money in Citibank. They did it secretly; they did it slowly; but they did it, and it earned enough publicity to have at least a little impact on the public perception of South Africa.

Now, though, those gains are endangered. The Corporation appears ready to junk its commitment not to place its funds in banks doing business with the Botha government, not to, in effect, lend money to fund apartheid. Through the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), the Corporation gave indications last week that they would consider the nature of any loans to the government. Were they "humanitarian" in nature, they might be allowed.

The "humanitarian" distinction is nonsense. The South Africans only build hospitals or schools for Blacks because they must; money funneled to the country for such purposes will only free up other funds for military, internal security force, and the other agencies needed to enforce the country's diabolical code.

As such, the Corporation decision represents a slap in the face to the students who battled so long to get even this small concession. The men who run the University reason, and probably correctly, that not many students here currently will care, certainly not care enough to do anything.

In general, we continue to urge the divestiture of all Harvard's holdings in South Africa. In particular, we urge the Corporation and the ACSR to reaffirm the doctrine of not directly supporting the South African authorities in any of their policies. If the Corporation goes back on the promise delivered in the spring of 1978, we hope students have conviction enough to once again take their case to the streets, the only place where they have ever had any effect.