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UA approves resolution calling for South African divestment

By Earl C. Yen

The Undergraduate Association (UA) Council called for total divestment of MIT's holdings in companies operating in South Africa in a resolution it approved Dec. 5.

"It's not common for the UA to take a stand on such an issue," said UA President Bryan R. Moser '87, who supported the proposal. "This issue is of national ... [and] international importance, and it's also a campus issue. It's very appropriate now that the council take a stand."

The UA Council agreed to hold a student body referendum on divestment in the spring term. The council will set the referendum date at its Jan. 23 meeting, said UA Vice President Mary S. Tai '87.

Nine council members voted for the proposal, two opposed and eight abstained, according to UA Secretary Sarah R. Thomas '87.

Moser said the high number of abstentions may have stemmed from the mixed feelings among many of the council members about divestment.

Thomas added that many UA Council members had not expected to vote on a divestment proposal at the meeting. Some of the council members were not sure how their constituents felt about the issue, she said.

Scott Saleska '86, member of the MIT Coalition Against Apartheid, asked the UA on the day of the meeting to consider taking a stand on the divestment issue.

"International pressure on South Africa can be effective," Saleska said. Many black South Africans, such as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nthato Motlana, have called on US corporations to withdraw from South Africa, according to Saleska.

"It's time to show support for the South African people," said Anne Khaminwa '89, a proxy representative at the meeting who introduced the resolution to the council. "It would be very good if other student associations also pledge support for divestment."

Saleska asserted that divestment is more than a symbolic show of support against apartheid. "It's not just a withdrawal of capital from these companies," he explained. "Divestment helps create a climate of opinion against apartheid -- it's a political action."

"There's always some amount of risk in divesting," Saleska said.<>

But he claimed that divestment would not necessarily decrease the size of MIT's endowment. "Some institutions have altered their portfolios and come out ahead. There's no guarantee, but it could also happen to MIT."

The council discussed whether it should vote on the proposal before conducting a student referendum on the issue, Thomas said. The members decided they should take a stand on the proposal before the Dec. 18 faculty meeting when the faculty will consider a resolution calling for divestment, Thomas explained.

Moser said he was unsure how the UA Council's decision will affect the upcoming faculty vote, but he "hopes that the faculty will take the UA vote seriously."

Saleska said he hoped the UA Council's decision to support divestment would contribute to the pro-divestment side in the faculty vote. He also suggested that divestment could be the first in a series of MIT actions against US companies operating in South Africa.

He added that he would have liked to see MIT take more of a leading role in the fight against apartheid by divesting earlier.