Disinvestment would hurt South African blacks
I am writing in response to the numerous letters, articles and protests in favor of MIT divestment from South Africa. I wish to present the opposite side of the argument of which the Coalition Against Apartheid is either uninformed or selectively chooses to ignore.
The CAA is calling for MIT to withdraw holdings in companies which do business in South Africa. This would presumably put pressure on these companies to disinvest which would, in turn, put pressure on the South African government to make concessions on its apartheid policies. In theory, this would appear to be the answer. However, while divestment does admittedly make a symbolic and moral statement, on further examination, the argument for its implementation, I believe, falls apart.
Assume, for argument's sake, that MIT divestment did not result in a transfer of ownership but instead was an impetus for the disinvestment of the affected companies. Ignoring, for the moment, the effects on the US and world economy, what would happen in South Africa? Unfortunately, the black population would be the hardest hit. They would lose employment that offers them integrated facilities, equal pay for equal work, extensive training programs, housing assistance and education. Unlike their South African counterparts, American corporations address the single most important need for all South African blacks -- a quality education.
Not only do American corporations provide training for their employees, but many support community-wide educational programs that benefit the entire black community. Pace Commercial College was one of the first tangible signs of commitment. It was planned and built by the American Chamber of Commerce six years ago and has since provided blacks with an education comparable to that received by the whites. Pace is a private school where 90 percent of the students rely on support of American companies who pay part or all of their tuition.
The headmaster, Rex Pennington, concedes "we realize that our effort here is but a small start, but every drop of water makes up the ocean, too." It is with such an education that the black people will be equipped to compete for jobs against their
white coworkers. And in fact, in American companies, this is just what they are beginning to do. While an unthinkable practice in most South African companies, an increasing number of black employees of American corporations are being promoted to posts in which they supervise white workers.
The value of employment by American companies to the black population is apparent. Although US corporations employ only one percent of the black population, their commitment to equal opportunity provides a positive stimulus for the other 99 percent to move at a faster rate on the road to reform. Although there can be no easy solutions, the American presence in South Africa can only help the blacks in their struggle for equality.
The CAA has contended that: "Black South Africans feel the best way to end apartheid is through international economic sanctions and multi-national corporate withdrawal. Though these actions may hurt South Africans in the short term they feel economic pressure is the only way to bring lasting change to their troubled land" ["Gray's message on divestment clashes with Mandela's," April 10]. They charge President Paul E. Gray '54 with falsely claiming to know what is best for black South Africans. I have some doubts that the CAA really knows what is best for them.
In fact, polls have indicated that 70 percent or more of South African blacks oppose disinvestment. Although Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress supports disinvestment, many of the other prominent black leaders are strongly opposed to it. Numbered among these is the Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who is also leader of the Inkatha, a one-million member black pro-liberation political organization.
Is short term suffering worth the cost? I am not so sure that the risks can be justified. Total corporate disinvestment could be viewed antagonistically by the South African government and result in the opposite of the desired long term effects. Even if it had beneficial effects several years down the line, can the blacks afford to sacrifice until then? Sam Tsagae, a 30-year-old black sales representative for American Cyanamid Co. in Edenvale, South Africa, claims: "Supporters of disinvestment argue that blacks who stand to lose their jobs must be prepared to suffer in the short term for the long term benefit. That theory is easy for Americans living 8000 miles away to use because they're not directly affected. While it may sound reasonable in theory, it's not practical."
I lived in Johannesburg for almost three years and witnessed the tremendous suffering of the black people. They cannot bear to suffer any more than they already are.
I have been upset by the amount of misinformation that has been presented in The Tech. A light-hearted scenario by columnist Bill Jackson '93 of Gray as a young South African black man ["No more twinkies: Gray in black South Africa," May 11] was presented, which was not only in poor taste but contained many blatantly false accounts. The "Immorality Act", of which the column speaks, prohibiting interracial intercourse and marriage, was abolished over five years ago. The pass laws, restricting travel of black South Africans within the country, were revoked four years ago. Obviously, Jackson has not been doing his research.
I was also distressed to hear that in last month's Undergraduate Association referendum on the issue, a margin of less than 10 percent in favor of divestment justified the statement that "the voting body of the UA" supports divestment. This is certainly, at best, a misinterpretation of the results.
I have also been disappointed by the extensive disrespect shown for Gray and others by many divestment supporters. Not only are they reluctant to listen to opposing views, but they try to make their points through channels which are often offensive to those around them. I am asking them to please treat me and others with similar views with the respect that we deserve.
I find myself frustrated and discouraged because I am restricted from joining the CAA because I do not support divestment. The implication that supporting divestment is synonymous with protesting apartheid is a fallacy. It is unquestionably possible to oppose both, and I most certainly do not stand alone in my position.
Sharlene Day '91->