The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 31.0°F | Fair

An investment in South Africa is one in racism


An investment in South Africa is one in racism

To the Editor:

This letter is written in response to Michael Battat's column "Protest to proper ears," which appeared in The Tech's March 1 issue. Although it was difficult to ascertain, it seems Mr. Battat's chief point was that since the ruling white South Africans (heretofore referred to as Afrikaaners) do not speak English as their official language, apartheid protests made in English fall upon deaf ears, and therefore should cease.

While I agree with Mr. Battat in that apartheid protests made in Afrikaans (South Africa's official language) should be made, I find fault with his claim concerning protests made against apartheid in English (or any other language for that matter). In addition, I find fault with other important issues raised in Mr. Battat's article.

Mr. Battat raised the issue of Senator Kennedy's trip to South Africa. Mr. Battat summarized the reaction of South African blacks to the senator's visit, saying, "South African blacks essentially told the senator that they were doing all right by themselves, and did not need his help."

While it is true that the threat of violence from certain South African blacks forced the cancellation of one of Kennedy's latter speeches to a black audience, it is true that this occurred because South African blacks "were doing all right by themselves"?

Are the following state of affairs imposed by Afrikaaners upon blacks "all right": 14 percent of South Africa land is reserved by whites for black occupation while 86 percent is reserved by whites for white occupation; under the white-created "homelands" policy a white gets an average 28 times the land to occupy than does a black; by law whites may own property while blacks cannot; by law whites may carry and own weapons while blacks cannot; by law whites may live anywhere in South Africa while blacks must live where told and can be instantly deported.

May I suggest that certain blacks protested a Kennedy speech not because they were "doing all right," but rather because they were tired of speeches -- tired of being promised justice but seeing little, if any, progress. Is it any surprise that a people deprived of essential aspects of human dignity want actions that fulfill promises already made?

But what can American pro-<>


tests do to overturn the "white is right" segregationist policies existent in South Africa? According to Mr. Battat American protest cannot have an effect even though many Afrikaaners are bilingual (speaking English and Afrikaans). I, however, contend that besides the direct effect English words can have on English speaking Afrikaaners (i.e., it must be unpleasant to be regarded as the scourge of Western civilization), Mr. Battat ignored a key aspect of the apartheid protest movement as practiced in this country and others.

In the highly interdependent modern international system the South African political system is not closed, but can be influenced by American protest. A key means to affect South African apartheid policy is to be found in economic sanctions. Many US businesses do business in and with South Africa, and many US corporations (including universities) invest in South Africa. They do so for the simple reason that<>


it is profitable.

Because these corporations invest in the socio-economic system of South Africa, it is in their best profit interest to maintain the political status quote to insure current profit margins. Furthermore, these outside investments play a central role in South African society by furnishing a key amount of capital for the country.

If Afrikaaners do not choose to revere the pleas of Western nations to end current racist policies of segregation, then economic boycott is the next plausible alternative. Mr. Battat, do you think that if every corporation based in an English speaking country stopped trading in South Africa and withdrew its investments -- in short, cut economic ties -- that South Africa would be forced to make concessions?

Furthermore, what if governments of English speaking countries joined with these corporations and severed relations with South Africa, agreeing to resume relations in return for a depar-<>


ture from segregationist policies--would South African race relations policies remain as stagnant as they currently are?

If my point is still unclear, Mr. Battat, let me further enlighten you with an example of effective boycott action used to obtain civil rights demands: In 1953 the Reverend Martin Luther King as head of the Montgomery Improvement Association succeeded in breaking segregation barriers then applied to Montgomery buses through an effective bus boycott by former black patrons.

But how are US corporations to withdraw investments in South Africa in the face of large profits? The answer to this question is they must be forced to through protests in English speaking countries. US citizens, for instance, must express the moral injustice of apartheid to US businesses who do business in South Africa, and must back their position through a boycott of goods produced by these companies.

This may sound like a large bill<>


to fill, and it is. This is not to say, however, that an economic boycott of this nature is without precedent. For instance, the boycott imposed by US consumers on the Nestle Corporation to protest infant formula distribution in the Third World was effective in forcing Nestle to conform to World Health Organization guidelines concerning infant formula distribution.

From past experience it is evident that well argued, reasonable pleas to end apartheid do not appeal to Afrikaaners. Little progress has been made in crumbling the wall of segregation that exists in South Africa. To be effective protesters, English speaking peoples (and all others) of the world must make statements backed by actions (i.e. economic sanctions). Investment in South Africa is investment in racism, and should be halted. The ineffectiveness of humanitarian pleas for justice make necessary the adoption of economic sanctions.

Charles P. Theuer '85->