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Next House - discussion on Apartheid Collquium

By Earl C. Yen

John Parsons, professor in the Sloan School of Management, and Kenneth R. Manning, professor in the Science, Technology, and Society program, discussed whether American companies should stop doing business in South Africa. Over 40 students attended that discussion at 500 Memorial Drive.

Parsons said that if American companies withdrew from South Africa, the South African government would probably end its apartheid policy.

"The US government publicly threatens South Africa, but under the table it's saying that we're not really going to do it [divest]," Parsons said. "If the United States really threatened South Africa, I think the dismantling of apartheid would happen very quickly."

Parsons cited the example of Zimbabwe, which until 1978 was under the rule of a white minority regime. When the United States and other nations pressured the then-Rhodesian government to come to the bargaining table, "they negotiated an agreement for majority rule almost immediately," Parsons asserted.

Manning agreed that US companies should divest from South Africa. He also refuted the argument that South African blacks would be severely hurt by the withdrawal of American companies. The argument is similar to one used in 19th century America that the abolition of slavery would be most economically damaging to the slaves, Manning indicated.

"They [the people opposed to divestment] say that the blacks there won't have support, they won't have jobs," Manning explained. "And if you look at American history, there was a period of reconstruction where the blacks were worse off than before the [Civil] war, if you look at it solely on economic terms."

"But it's much more important for companies to pull out and risk the economic problems that may result, in hopes of achieving equality for everyone," he emphasized. "Of course the US has something to lose in an embargo, but what is gained is so fundamentally important."

Parsons said he is very doubtful that a "constructive engagement" policy will lead to the ending of apartheid.

"When someone today says that US companies are a positive influence, I want to know why," Parsons said. "I want to see some proof that there have been results in bridging the racial inequalities since the last time the person said this."

One member of the audience questioned whether the apartheid policy is a domestic South African matter that the US should not try to influence.

"We are not mingling in the internal interests of a foreign country," Parsons responded. "American companies help South Africa, American companies help the South African military, and it is also the American companies that are helping to segregate black and white South African workers."

Manning pointed out similarities between the situation in South Africa today and the United States in the 1960's. "The pain that I feel reading about what happens [in South Africa] on a day-to-day basis is very incapacitating to me," he said. "It's the same kind of pain I felt during the 60's when segregation existed."