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MIT Coalition Against Apartheid still supports divesment for South Africa

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More than a year has passed since Nelson Mandela was released from prison. There have been several changes in South Africa since Mandela's release, some of them fairly significant. "Talks-about-talks" (the preliminaries to negotiations for a new South African constitution) have begun; the Separate Amenities Act (the law segregating public facilities) has been repealed; censorship of the press and of political organizations is less strictly enforced; and President F. W. de Klerk has introduced legislation that would repeal the Group Areas Act and the Land Act -- the linchpins of apartheid's housing and land-ownership policies.

Other things about South Africa have not changed: The white government has not been willing to concede even the concept of a one person/one vote democracy, let alone give signs of being amenable to actually establishing democratic rule. Apartheid still lives.

As of today, the laws prohibiting non-whites from voting have not been repealed; more than 3000 political prisoners are being held in South African jails; 119 anti-apartheid supporters have been assassinated by government "hit" squads; and the Internal Security Act still allows for the detention of political activists without trial.

As of today, the South African government still spends almost four times as much for a white child's education as it does for a black child; 53 percent of the black population still lives below the poverty line; there is still only one doctor for every 12,000 black people; and as of today a black infant is still 12 times more likely to die than a white infant. This side of life under apartheid has not changed.

The changes that have occurred in South Africa have created a great deal of confusion within the international anti-apartheid movement: Many people are unclear about what role they should play in encouraging democratic change. Arguments have been put forth that the divestment/disinvestment/sanctions campaigns should stop, in the hopes that the reward of allowing South Africa to rejoin the world community will encourage the white government to implement further changes.

But this argument is inadequately substantiated, in that 1) it acknowledges that the international isolation of South Africa is something de Klerk wants ended -- and given the fact that de Klerk himself links the positive steps he has taken to the sanctions campaign, this is a reasonable assumption; 2) but having admitted the important role that sanctions have played so far, this argument fails to suggest how, in their absence, de Klerk will be encouraged to make the critical shift from his current proposal to one that allows one person/one vote democracy; 3) it proposes to reward the wrong people: It is the people who have struggled to end apartheid that should be rewarded for the steps taken so far, and not de Klerk.

Lifting sanctions now would leave the world community with no comprehensive mechanism through which to urge the South African government to end apartheid, allowing de Klerk to stall the negotiations or to stand fast on non-democratic proposals if he chooses to do so, and would therefore contribute the further suffering and bloodshed within the country.

The role of the international community in hastening the end of apartheid has not changed: The international divestment/disinvestment/sanctions movement is more crucial than ever in bringing pressure to bear on the South African government.

The question of MIT's divesting from companies with ties to the South African economy is as valid now as it was in the past: Since 1986, the MIT community has expressed a strong commitment to both the end of apartheid and MIT's divestment as a means to that end.

But the issue of divestment is more critical now than a purely moral argument would allow. Recent events indicate that various governments around the world -- including the Bush administration -- have responded or are considering responding to de Klerk's call to lift sanctions based on his assertion that "irreversible" steps have been taken to end apartheid. In order for sanctions to remain in place, credible testimony from authoritative sources is needed to affirm their importance.

By publicly divesting, our university would draw attention to both the positive steps taken by de Klerk and to the fact that such steps are thus far incomplete.

At the very least, the divestment of an institution with MIT's reputation and with such sizeable investments in firms with ties to the South African economy would encourage these companies to pressure the South African government to speed the end of apartheid. MIT's divestment may also be the final push needed to convince them to disinvest, further pressuring the South African government.

MIT's divestment may also encourage these companies to urge the US government to maintain sanctions. Without sanctions, the divestment campaign would be the only resource left to the anti-apartheid movement.

The negative publicity that would be focused on these companies in an atmosphere of an intensified divestment campaign could only hurt their public image, and is something they undoubtedly wish to avoid. Reminded of their vulnerability to such a campaign through MIT's divestment, their stake in the continuation of sanctions may thus be established.

The MIT Coalition Against Apartheid has met twice with members from the MIT Corporation to discuss the issue of divestment -- the most recent meeting being last Friday.

We are now convinced that there are Corporation members who are dissatisfied with MIT's current position on divestment and who would be willing to support a change in that position. To that end, the members of the CAA will be asking students, staff and faculty to reaffirm their commitment to divestment by endorsing a gradual divestment proposal.

Given the urgency of the current situation, and the fact that with the help of some Corporation members we may finally be able to get the Executive Committee to take a more significant stand on South Africa than it has in the past, MIT community support in this effort is pivotal.

Sue Nissman G->

On behalf of the MIT->

Coalition Against Apartheid->