South Africa divestment

Lauren Yelinek, South Africa Divestment

Apartheid: n. An official policy of racial segregation promulgated in the Republic of South Africa with a view toward promoting and maintaining white ascendancy.

–          From “South African Education Week – A Struggle Against Apartheid”  at UMass Amherst


Systems of apartheid had existed in colonized South Africa for the better part of the 20th century.  This racist National Party, elected into formal power in 1948, promoted economic, political and social segregation on the basis of race: the white minority controlling the capabilities of the oppressed Black majority.  By the mid-1970s, the severe discrimination had become an international concern.  In response to the increasing repression, a divestment movement began, with economic pressure thought to be the most significant way to diminish the profits that kept the ruling class in power.  Here at UMass – where there had been a longstanding awareness of apartheid issues since the 1960s – the April 1st Coalition aimed to enforce the university’s divestment policy and contribute to the end of an international social injustice within the larger student divestment movement in the 1980s.


Apartheid South Africa

Although systems of apartheid existed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa had become a focal point in the growing anti-apartheid movement by the 1960s.  The National Party had taken control over the South African government in 1948, having eliminated “coloured voting” and achieved exclusively white voting by 1969 (“The National Party and Apartheid”).  Apartheid South Africa was marked by the most oppressive and racist domestic policies, with the white majority inhibiting economic, political or social power to any minority groups, but especially black South Africans. The population was divided into four racial categories: white, black, Asian, and “coloured”.  Legislation was both a medium of and result of white privilege; however, while Asians and “coloureds” experienced repression, the most severe racial and socioeconomic discrimination was reserved for the black majority.

A number of laws and pieces of legislation were key in maintaining this system, which essentially treated non-whites (especially blacks) as subhuman.  The Population Registration Act mandated the registration and classification of South Africans by race, while the Abolition of Passes Act required all black Africans over the age of sixteen to be fingerprinted and carry a passbook (“South African Education Week”).  These passbooks were to be carried at all times, recording identification, employment, permits to enter white areas, and family status.  Political or radical movements of any kind were often subdued with other legislation; namely, the Terrorism Act and the Internal Security Act (“The National Party and Apartheid”).  The Terrorism Act allowed for indefinite detention without charge or trial.  Perhaps more significantly, the Internal Security Act, “allowed the preventive detention of persons alleged to be engaged in activities which could endanger the security of the state, and authorizes ‘banning’ of persons without charge or trial…Banned persons were restricted to given areas, may not be present at a gathering of two or more people, speak publicly, have writings published, or be publicly quoted” (Ibid.).  Mobilization of the population would prove difficult, especially under this oppressive legislation.

By 1968, the plan of “Grand Apartheid” had been instituted and brought to fruition, “emphasizing territorial separation (of races) and police repression” (“A History of Apartheid in South Africa”).The final arrest and imprisonment of Nelson Mandela in 1964 marked the beginnings of a more widespread international interest in apartheid.  Mandela, a known anti-apartheid activist in the National Party’s now-banned African National Congress, had written anti-apartheid literature that had begun to be widely distributed abroad.  Groups such as Amnesty International, FOCUS Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and others not only featured Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and other South African activists, but had begun to publish their own findings regarding the state of black South Africans under apartheid.


International Awareness

With the increasing awareness of the apartheid regimes came more outspoken activism internationally.   With the increasing violence and militancy of the apartheid system, international awareness and outspokenness emerged.  In fact, a number of UN resolutions were passed.  Early resolutions condemned the racist policies, and called on member nations to consider restricting economic and military relations with South Africa.  Later resolutions called or embargos on weapons and machinery and materials used to make weapons.  The US complied with this in 1963 (“Apartheid South Africa”).  By 1973, the UN General Assembly declared apartheid, “a crime against humanity” (Ibid.).  Resolution 3I/6K requested that member nations “consider steps to achieve the cessation of further foreign investments in South Africa” (Ibid.)

This sense of awareness and social responsibility to respond to apartheid first emerged in the United States with the Sullivan Principles.  In 1971, Reverend Leon Sullivan joined the board of directors at General Motors, then the largest employer of black South Africans under apartheid (“The Sullivan Principles”).  In response to the national policy of “Grand Apartheid”, the Sullivan principles were created, calling for social, economic, and racial equality in the workplace. The principles addressed non-segregation in the workplaces, equal and fair employment practices, equal pay, equal opportunities for promotion, training, and improving the working conditions and quality of life for all nonwhite employees (“The Sullivan principles”).

While great in theory, many critiqued the Sullivan principles as insufficient in working against apartheid.  Basically, these were lofty goals that would not only be difficult to enforce from a world away, but essentially useless without political change.   Companies could agree to comply with the principles to maintain an outward anti-apartheid image without actually having any impact on the system at all.  By 1985, “About one hundred and fifty companies were current signatories, with 26 slated to sign on [to the Sullivan Principles].  But most protesters in the United States seemed to scorn the Sullivan Principles and turned to divestment campaigns” (Kristof, 1985).

A more dramatic approach to changing the system of apartheid was divestment.  Divestment is essentially “uninvestment”.  The divestment movement encouraged an institution’s removal of stock from companies doing business in South Africa.  Colleges and universities, local and state governments, and fellow companies wanted stock sold because they saw themselves as partial owners of companies working within a racist, oppressive political system there.  In 1977, the UMass Board of Trustees made the decision to remove all stock from companies doing business in South Africa (Eaton, 1985).    In other words, the administration committed to a policy of “total divestment.”

Divestment was both celebrated and criticized.  For many institutions, divestment was seen as the most direct form of disapproval of the South African government.  With “the primary goal [being] to encourage companies to leave South Africa and thereby pressure its government to end the policy of apartheid,” proponents of divestment saw the dollar as the most direct was to undermine the economic and political foothold of the National Party (Kristof, 1985).  However, critics maintained that the presence of American companies resulted in an attempt at “enlightened racial policies” – essentially, the Sullivan Principles (Ibid.)  Some went further, saying that even if primary investors in South Africa withdrew economic support, hundreds of American companies still sold products to the country.  Here, however, is where international codes of conduct and potential political weight could have come in to play.  By 1985, the United Nations had encouraged a number of sanctions against the buying and selling of products to South Africa, and a number of pieces of legislation were on the table in Congress by 1985.  Most notable was the Gray-Kennedy legislation, which “would ban all new bank loans and computer sales to the South African government and at least temporarily halt all new United States investment in South Africa…along with annual reviews of South Africa pertaining to the dismantling of apartheid as a social, economic, and political system” (Business Week 1985: Number 2892).

Despite contention in congress and amongst corporate entities, divestment was a growing trend both in the local and state politics and the educational realm.  In July 1984 the Boston City Council voted to remove all city money from lenders engaged with transactions in South Africa, and divest all stockholdings in US companies operating there – affecting roughly $10 to $12 million (American Committee on Africa).  Approximately $400 million in public funds was affected with divestment measures in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, and Maryland (Ibid.).  Moreover, universities had become increasingly involved in applying economic pressure, with over forty now either fully or partially divesting and impacting about $175 million in South Africa (Ibid.)





UMass Activism: The April 1st Coalition and the “Divest 9”


Coinciding with the American Committee on Africa’s Student Anti-Apartheid Movement, UMass students’ April 1st Coalition took action after its findings that the divestment policy was not being adhered to by the UMass administration. April and October of 1985 were designated as the “Weeks of Action” in what had now become a national movement across American college campuses.  Comprised of approximately four hundred students, the April 1st Coalition occupied the vice chancellor’s office on April 1, 1985 (Eaton 1985).  The coalition had sought nine demands, including retaining student control of the Campus Center and Student Union, maintaining a thirty-two student board of governors, creating a task-force for the student activities board, and fighting the Universal Resource Fee being proposed for dorm maintenance.  Most significantly, “the April 1st coalition demanded the immediate divestment of all UMass stocks in companies doing business in South Africa, [with] the battle over this issue being partially won by students” (Ibid.).  The coalition claimed that they had discovered that the UM administration was not adhering to its 1977 policy of total divestiture.  They claimed it still held roughly $177,000 in stock in Proctor and Gamble Co. (home products), the Foxboro Co. (industrial equipment), and Thomas & Betts Corp (electrical equipment) (Langfur 1985).


After occupying the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Office for four days – with roughly fifty students staying for the duration – the majority of the demands were met and no disciplinary was taken against “the peaceful group”.   The administration agreed to student demands to further investigate adherence to the 1977 Board of Trustees decision to  fully divest from companies, such as IBM, doing business in South Africa (Ibid.).   Most significantly, the Commission of South African Investments was formed – comprised of five students, five faculty members, and one administration representative – to further investigate and inform the administration if steps were to be taken to change their policy.  Interestingly, Dean of Students William Field supported the action taken by the protestors, saying, “Any protest that requires people to stop what they’re doing and think is most definitely effective.  I think the chancellor has been conscious and cooperative in dealing with these things; in that way, again, they are being very effective” (Ibid.).

Exactly one month later, action ensued, with thirty-two protestors arrested in UMass Treasurer Robert Brand’s office.  This arrest of twenty men and twelve women made this the largest group arrested on the UMass campus since the thirty-five arrests during the Whitmore occupation protesting the Vietnam War in 1968 (Koester).  About two hundred students marched into the treasurer’s office in response to the findings of the Commission on South African Investments of UMass – a group of ten students, faculty and administrators created in response to the April 1st Coalition’s occupation one month earlier (Ibid).  A report issued by the commission not only uncovered continued investment in apartheid South Africa, but also “recommended that the university sell its holdings in Foxboro Company, Proctor & Gamble Co., JP Morgan & Co., and Bankers Trust New York Corp. because, it concluded, these investments violate the trustee policy of divestment from companies operating in South Africa” (Koester and McRory 1985).  They estimated that UMass had $351,463 worth of stock invested in these companies and lenders (Ibid.).  Initially, the commission had set a May 8th, 1985, deadline for UMass president David Knapp, but upon these findings the protestors claimed, “We’ve waited 8 years since the divestment policy was instituted in 1977, and ‘immediately’ to us means now”(Ibid.).

Some of the protestors had been involved in the April 1st Occupation’s sit-in, while others were members of the Commission or simply felt compelled to participate in the march on the office.  It is interesting to note that while their actions were indeed linked to the national student anti-apartheid movement, this was a matter of students pursuing a cause on their own accord and with the own resources they had fought to use (i.e., the Commission on South African Investment) rather than acting in solidarity with a larger organized effort.  Those protesting had the singular goal of seeing the administration carry out the decision and agreements they had made regarding divestment.  As protestor Matt Shakespeare, “Our duty is to have them accelerate divestment.  Each day that investment continues is a black spot on the university” (“Police Arrest 32…”).  Economics professor and commission member Samuel Bowles claimed, “We commission members have come to the conclusion, I am sad to say, that this university does continue to have money invested in South Africa…I don’t want to have this university associated in any way with that brutal and racist regime” (Ibid.).

Chancellor Duffey called the demand to sell the stocks immediately “unreasonable”, and all of the students faced disciplinary action.  Arrests were made at the May 1 protest because” business at the office ‘came to a halt’, whereas the sit-in [on April 1st] permitted operations to go on.  They were arraigned on trespassing charges, and one disorderly conduct charge (for trying to block the bus that was taking away already-arrested students).  The “Divest Nine” planned to present a “necessities” defense, saying that their findings and protest were needed to inform both the administration and the student population of what they found was still going on in relation to South Africa (“the ‘Divest 9’ Go To Trial”).  A “Divest Nine” Defense Fund was created, soliciting financial and moral support from fellow students, faculty, family, and local communities and politicians (Ibid.).  However, charges were eventually dropped.  The administration seemed to realize that they should not be arresting students concerned with preventing human suffering, in addition to the fact that local communities and the UMass community had begun to rally around their cause – which was, by now, a popular international issue.




By the fall of 1985, the Student Anti-Apartheid Newsletter boasted, “Wave of Divestments Follows Spring Protests”:

Campus protest this spring has led to the most intense period of divestment actions ever by US colleges and universities.  Since [April], sixteen schools have either partially or totally divested their South Africa-linked holdings – affecting a total of $39.4 million held in U.S. corporations and banks.  Since 1977, fifty-seven schools have now taken some divestment action affecting $267 million in all.


Ultimately, the pressure applied by universities through divestment encouraged companies themselves to put pressure on the South African government.  Divestment’s threat to the profit margins of these American corporations encouraged the companies themselves to apply pressure to the South African government to operate in a socially just way.  Understanding the limitations of political power, students were able to work on a micro level by applying pressure to their own administrations to impact a social injustice a world away.

Anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace prize winner Desmond Tutu said, “There is no greater testament to the basic dignity of ordinary people everywhere than the divestment movement of the 1980s.”  Despite geographic and political limitations, students across the United States – and here at UMass – found a way to transcend these boundaries and work within their means to achieve social change.  By utilizing multiple levels of power and knowledge, the student anti-apartheid movement was able to work within the larger divestment movement that began with Leon Sullivan; in turn, the April 1st Coalition was able to function in solidarity with the larger student anti-apartheid movement.  Furthermore, protestors continued to investigate and interrogate the administration to follow up with their agreements.  And by the end of 1985, the UMass administration was adhering to a policy of total divestiture, with a total of $1.4 million stocks removed from business with investments in South Africa (“College Divestment” 1985).  Like the Civil Rights movement, watershed legislation often had to be enforced with direct action; the case of divestment on the UMass campus follows this trend of citizens forcing the implementation of the change they seek.




“Apartheid South Africa”.  SouthAfrica.To.  Retrieved on April 19, 2011 from



*Brown, Greg.  “Whitmore Sit-In Ends in Compromise.” The Daily Collegian. Radical Student

Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 1. 45/80/R1. Special Collections and

University Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.



BusinessWeek. “Fire on Campus, Tremors in the Boardroom”. 1985. Business Week – Social

Issues: number 2892.  29 April 1985. Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. . 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.



*Chronicle of Higher Education. 1977.  “More Universities Curb Financial Interests in South

Africa”. Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. . 45/80/R1.

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of

Massachusetts Amherst.



“College Divestment”.  The Investor’s Responsibility Research Center.  Radical Student Union:

South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. . 45/80/R1. Special Collections and University

Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.



Eaton, Susan.  1985.  “Student Take-over Ends”.  Amherst Bulletin.  10 April, 1985:  Pp. 22-23.

Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 1. 45/80/R1.  Special

Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of

Massachusetts Amherst.



Encyclopedia Britannica. “The National Party.” Retrieved on 20 April, 2011 from         Party-and-Apartheid


Flyer:  “South African Education Week: The Struggle against Apartheid.” Published by the

April 1st Coalition. Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries,

University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Koester, Laura and Anne McCrory. 1985.  “Police arrest 32 during sit-in: Protesters cite failure

to divest”.  The Collegian.  2 May, 1985.  Radical Student Union: South Africa –

Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. . 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives,

University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.




Kristof, Nicholas D. 1985. “U.S. Companies Cut Some South Africa Links”. New York Times. 4

April 1985. Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. 45/80/R1.

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of

Massachusetts Amherst.


Langfur, Hal.  1985.  “Plan to talk ends UMass sit-in.” Hampshire Gazette. Radical Student

Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and

University Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.



Sohenburg, Nina E. “Columbia, UMass protests continue sitting-in, fasting for divestment.” The

Harvard Crimson: 4 April 1985.  Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15,

Folder 4. 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries,

University of Massachusetts Amherst.


*Student Anti-Apartheid Movement Newsletter.  Fall 1984.  American Committee on Africa.

Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 1. 45/80/R1.  Special

Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts    Amherst.


*Swan, Rhonda.  1985.  “Trade Unions Help Blacks:  Movement has force against Apartheid”.

The Collegian. 11 November, 1985: Pp. 1. Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 1. 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.


“The Divest 9 Go To Trial”.  Divest Nine Defense Fund. Radical Student Union: South Africa –

Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4. 45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives,

University Libraries, University of Massachusetts Amherst.


“The History of Apartheid in South Africa. Retrieved on 19 April, 2011 from


“The Sullivan Principles.”  Retrieved on 20 April, 2011 from



The Reverend Leon Sullivan Foundation. “The Sullivan Principles”. Retrieved on 20 April, 2011




*Weinburg, Neal and Marcia Bloomburg. “UM chancellor says stock sale not useful”.

Hampshire Gazette.  Radical Student Union: South Africa – Sweden: Box 15, Folder 4.

45/80/R1.  Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries,

University of Massachusetts Amherst.





*Article retrieved from UMass Library archives – missing dates, authors, and/or publishers are because the copies of these original documents may not have provided complete publication information.



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