There is a land, far away from most of our immediate concerns of family, taxes, jobs and relationships, that is one of the most repressive on earth. And while we scurry about our busy lives, some of the dollars that our labors produce for taxes are being used to prop up this regime.
I'm talking, of course, about South Africa, and it is good at this time when we've recalled the Holocaust of World War II--that mind-boggling reminder of man's inhumanity to man--also to think of this country that wields such total control against a people at this very moment. The injustice of a 4.5 million white minority legally denying 22 million black people the right to vote or participate in government, of forcing them to live docilely in a brutal police state or risk imprisonment, comes dangerously close to the mentality of Nazi Germany.
Increasingly, American states and cities, revolted by this regime, are withdrawing investments from corporations and financial institutions that do business in South Africa. Michigan, Massachussetts, Connecticut and Philadelphia are among a number of states and cities that have enacted divestiture policies.
Now, D.C. Council Member John Ray is pressing for legislation requiring the District to halt its financial dealings with corporations and financial institutions involved with South Africa.
"By enacting this legislation," explains Ray, "we can say to the world that the people of Washington, D.C., refuse to allow our tax money to be used to support oppression in South Africa."
The main opposition to Ray's bill has come from those who contend that U.S. involvement with South Africa, while supporting apartheid, also provides jobs and some educational opportunities for blacks. This view comes down on the side of going slow on withdrawing investment from South Africa.
Those who hold this position cite the l981 Rockefeller Foundation report produced by a black man, Franklin Thomas, who now heads the Ford Foundation. My reading of this report was that, while Thomas did not recommend pulling out American companies already there, declaring that they provide some limited internal relief for blacks, he came out firmly against any new investment by U.S. firms. That strikes me as a contradiction. How can you say on the one hand that no new investment should be made, but that existing investments should continue? This schizophrenic recommendation effectively concedes the argument to the other side.
The conclusion of former Sen. Dick Clark rings more true. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, he said that U.S. banks and investors had helped South Africa's white majority strengthen apartheid and called for concrete steps that "actively discourage American investment."
Who among blacks is arguing for foreign investment remaining in South Africa? Not the Organization of African Unity. Not African nations in the United Nations. Such black South Africans as Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi favor foreign investors remaining, but he also is the head of one of the South African government puppet "homelands" so hated by the black majority. He and others who share his views are drawing fire from young black South Africans who are fighting for their independence and who favor divestiture. But has anyone heard from the real leader of the black majority, Nelson Mandela? Of course not; he's been in jail for 20 years.
American investment, Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda told Transafrica Forum, a publication of Trans-Africa, a black American lobby for African interests, also underpins South Africa's capacity to destabilize such neighboring countries as Namibia.
It's ironic that, as the Reagan Administration continues to cozy up to South Africa, Americans are rising to support the cause of freedom there. Washington's Southern Africa Support Project is sponsoring fund-raising activities this week to aid Namibiam refugees. And in an impressive breadth of authorship, 24 national organizations, under TransAfrica's impetus, have joined together to release a report on Namibia Wednesday.
John Ray's bill is part of the broadening domestic concern about the repression of the South African government. The District should have a divestiture bill, and a strong one.