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After 18 years of rallies, sit-ins, and bureaucratic battles, participants in the struggle over Harvard's $139 million in South Africa-related stocks are hoping that the end is finally in sight.
Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu's renewed call for total divestment yesterday, together with recent moves toward liberalization by South African leaders, seem to many to offer an opportunity for the University to resolve the nagging issue.
Only seven months ago, Board of Overseers President John C. White-head called divestment a closed question, and said he did not expect it to be taken up again in the "foreseeable future." But last night, he said Harvard's investment policy will probably be reevaluated at April's Overseers meeting.
"We're going to watch and wait and see what develops," Whitehead said. "Depending on changes in South Africa, there might be changes in Harvard's policy."
Divestment supporters said they hope this means the University will abandon its policy of divesting only from companies that actively collaborate with the South African government. In a December 1988 report, the Overseers stated that this practice--called "selective divestment"--would only be reconsidered in case of major changes in South Africa.
"The situation in South Africa allows Harvard a graceful way to back away from what was a wrong policy," said Robert P. Wolff '54, executive director of the Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid, which nominated Tutu to the 30-member Board. "It now looks like there is a real possibility of negotiating an end to apartheid, so it's impor- tant that Harvard throw its weight behind thatprospect."
Wolff said he supports Tutu's plan, under whichHarvard would declare its intention to divestcompletely unless South African President F.W. DeKlerk repeals the laws that are the basis of theapartheid system.
But Overseer Frances FitzGerald '62, whosupports total divestment, said Tutu's proposal isproblematic.
"I don't think Harvard is capable of doingsomething like that," FitzGerald said. "It's onething to make a moral statement, and another thingto engage in what is essentially politicaltransaction.
And even if the Overseers were to support a newdivestment plan, it is unclear what influence theywould have on the seven-member HarvardCorporation--which has final say on all matters ofUniversity policy.
Still, FitzGerald said she thinks the Overseersare "ready to listen to what Archbishop Tutu says.When he's there, you can't say `no.'"
When Tutu was elected to the Board last June,some anti-divestment overseers predicted that hewould "play havoc" with University governance.Many breathed a sigh of relief when Tutu did notmention divestment at his first meeting inDecember.
Now that the archbishop seems to be readyinghimself for a showdown, no one is sure how muchhavoc he will play. Wolff said he expects theUniversity to give in rather than face anadministrative crisis.
"I can't imagine how Harvard could refuseTutu's plea," he said.
But Whitehead--who was deputy secretary ofstate in the Reagan administration--said that ifrapid change continues in South Africa, it isimpossible to tell what action the Overseers willtake in April.
"We'll just have to wait and see what happensby the next meeting," he said
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