Divestment not necessarily the answer
I am presently a graduate student at MIT and am very disturbed and confused by the recent events concerning the divestment of MIT's holdings in businesses having connections in South Africa. Even though I do feel that divestment does have a positive impact towards the eventual end to apartheid, I still have a couple of misgivings. Specifically, do the majority of South Africans feel that divestment is the best way for the outside world to accelerate the dismantling of the apartheid system? Secondly, am I in the position <>
to criticize MIT's divestment policies?
As an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985, I protested the University of California's investment policies. These protests, I feel, had a significant impact on the decision by the Regents of the University of California to divest its assets from companies doing business in or with South Africa.
At that time, my views were focused. I thought that divestment was efficient in achieving the goal of accelerating the dismantling of the apartheid system. I also felt that it was morally justified and in the best interest of the majority of South Africans. Furthermore, since I was a resident and taxpayer in the state of California, I felt I had a right and an obligation to make my views heard regarding the financial administration of this state institution.
Five years have past, and I am now at MIT. I enjoyed reading the recent letter by the Coalition Against Apartheid ["Gray's message on divestment clashes with Mandela's," April 10], which served to further educate me on the issue. Even though Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress are of the opinion that divestment is the course <>
of action that the outside world should take, I am unclear as <>
to whether the ANC actually represents the majority opinion of black South Africans.
This doubt stems from the existence of other black political groups which have held views different than that of the ANC in the past. Furthermore, would the majority of black South Africans agree that divestment is the primary and most important action that foreigners should take in aiding their efforts? I simply do not know.
Secondly, am I in the position to criticize MIT's policies? I think not. I was not coerced to attend MIT to pursue my graduate study, and I can freely go elsewhere. In addition, even though I am a student here, and receive no funds from the Institute, my relationship with MIT is analogous to that between a company and its consumers. I pay MIT money, and in return I get access to professors, libraries, and an education leading to a degree.
However, for me to protest MIT's position on financial holdings in companies having connections in South Africa would be, in my opinion, similar to going out, buying a can of Coca-Cola, and then trying to dictate to the Coca-Cola Corporation who they should do business with. Furthermore, if I was receiving funds from MIT to subsidize my education costs would my stance be even weaker in accepting this "tainted" money? Would it then be appropriate for me to tell the MIT administration what to do with its money?
So what should I do? Should I boycott products of companies doing business with or in South Africa? I don't think I can turn in my Citicorp credit card, stop using IBM computers, stop riding in all GM vehicles. . . . The list is nearly endless. I would admire any person who could do all this because I am not that strong. Furthermore, to selectively boycott only one or a few companies would be unfair.
Maybe an appropriate role that we as students could take is to collect food, clothing, and educational supplies for black South Africans. If this is not already being done at MIT, I would invite the CAA or others in the MIT community to organize such an effort. This may be the best <>
way to take both a moral stance regarding the apartheid issue while also affecting some positive change for the disadvantaged and oppressed majority in that troubled nation.
Vasan Venugopalan G->