ACSR hears views on divestment
By Andrea Lamberti
Speakers at an open hearing of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) Wednesday night overwhelmingly supported the view that MIT should divest its holdings in companies that do business in South Africa.
The hearing in 10-250 allowed members of the MIT community to present their views on MIT's investments and South Africa.
Twenty-two people spoke encouraging MIT to act, through divestment and other means, to end the current political situation in South Africa. In support of their arguments, they cited personal experience in South Africa, the symbolic value of divesting, MIT's campus discrimination policy, and moral reasons.
The ACSR is "charged with making a recommendation to the executive committee" of the MIT Corporation, said Committee Chair D. Reid Weedon Jr. '41. The committee will convey statements and concerns heard at the hearing to the Corporation's executive committee later this spring.
The executive committee is responsible for policy on the issue of investments and South Africa, according to an open letter to the MIT community from President Paul E. Gray '54.
The most extreme recommendation the ACSR has made to date is "to get out of companies who do not get a high grade according to the Sullivan Principles," Weedon said at the hearing.
The Statement of Principles, formerly the Sullivan Principles, list basic requirements for equal opportunity employment in companies operating in South Africa. They are now known as the Statement of Principles because the Rev. Leon Sullivan, author of the principles, withdrew his support for them in 1987 due to South Africa's lack of progress toward ending apartheid, according to Gray's letter.
The administration claims its holdings in companies involved with South Africa total $84 million. The Coalition Against Apartheid, using an alternate assessment scheme, says MIT's holdings are worth $289 million.
Christine M. Coffey '93 argued that MIT's definition of involvement in South Africa was too narrow. "Operations are not the only [way] of supporting" the South African government, she said.
Distribution agreements and licensing and trade agreements are ways companies stay involved in South Africa that do not get registered under MIT's assessment, she said.
Speakers argue for divestment
Coffey encouraged MIT to "take action as a whole body; [it] can't continue to support apartheid with its name and money. It must take responsibility for its own actions and divest."
Susan M. Minter G spoke at the hearing to "refute three [of the main] arguments" used against divestment. The first one, "an institution or university is not the right place to implement or formulate policy," Minter countered with "it isn't only our right [to demonstrate and speak out against apartheid]; it is our moral obligation" to do so.
The second argument commonly used against divestment is that "it's a misguided policy; it is only going to hurt the blacks," Minter said. To counter that statement, Minter recalled her six-week visit to South Africa, when she was "taken illegally into areas whites aren't supposed to see: Soweto, Crossroads, and the shantytown outside Capetown."
Minter said, "Every day, people were putting their lives on the line" in order to maintain apartheid. "I think it is hypocritical for us to be worrying about saving lives," she said.
The third argument Minter refuted was that "sanctions will not work." The Anti-Apartheid act of 1986 "has made a tremendous impact," she claimed. "It is exactly those sanctions that have brought Nelson Mandela out of prison and de Klerk to the negotiating table."
Leerothodi-Lapula Leeuw '92, a South African citizen, recounted "a personal account" of trying to get a job in South Africa as a trainee in a "company that claimed to be using" the Statement of Principles.
The manager of the company told Leeuw and other blacks working there that they were hired "to increase the number of blacks in management" positions. The manager knew that an existing law prevented blacks from taking a certification exam necessary to assume managerial responsibilities, Leeuw said.
"South Africa has a constitutional racial system by which they allocate funds for public education, health and services. In 1987, public white schools" received seven times as much funding as black schools, Leeuw said.
He added that "it is the South African constitution that has been keeping us away from our rights. [Companies with operations in South Africa] pay taxes to the South African government. By working in South Africa they directly support this racial allocation of funding in South Africa."
A very strong message
Gillian P. Hart, senior lecturer in the Department of of Urban Studies and Planning, claimed that "divestment is not first and foremost an economic act. . . . [It is] an unequivocal statement of a disassociation" with a system that "denies basic human rights."
Hart said that part of the "long and difficult and complicated" process of dismantling apartheid "is going to entail white South Africans relinquishing" their power.
"An act like divestment conveys a very strong message to white South Africans," who are the force behind "the most unequal system in the world today," said Hart, who grew up in South Africa and has studied its economy.
Religious Counselor Scott Paradise said he accepted the "moral judgment" of black South African leaders, "who have gained great moral stature."
"When these leaders tell us that these investments in South Africa give aid and comfort to the South African government, and that we ought to divest, I'm inclined to believe them," he said.
Paradise urged MIT not to forget the moral grounds for divestment or other action against the South African government. He asserted that divestment is a moral action as well as an economic one. "If the moral side is ignored, it communicates a message to the world -- that money is all that matters," he said.
David R. Afshartous G attempted to explain the structure and function of the South African military. "The military may be viewed as the guardian of the apartheid" government, he said. The military in South Africa includes the police as well as the armed forces, and these branches "act in tandem" to maintain the system, he said.
Afshartous added that the business of producing arms "employs 100,000 people, many of whom are black." Blacks are therefore working to support the industry that manufactures the tools of their own oppression, he said.