Ask the manager of Deak-Perera at 1800 K St. NW how krugerrand sales are going these days, and he'll shake his head. "No comment on krugerrands," says Bernard Zeng. Three black employes seated at telephones and computers near the coin display case smile with satisfaction.
The krugerrand is no longer on display here, and instead of advertisements for this controversial South African gold piece, there now are posters for the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf -- which are produced with North American gold.
"Now's the time to turn over a new leaf," the posters read.
Just a few months ago, krugerrands were the hottest selling coins in town. Named for Paul Kruger, an early Afrikaner leader who believed that "the black man had to be taught that he came second, that he belongs to the inferior class," the gold coin has become a symbol of South Africa's system of strict racial separation.
In February, leaders of the Free South Africa Movement expanded their antiapartheid campaign from protests at the South African Embassy to the downtown office of Deak-Perera, staging sit-ins that forced the precious-metal dealer to temporarily close shop.
For Randall Robinson and Walter Fauntroy, coordinators of the protests, demonstrating in front of the South African Embassy was one thing; but going heads up against the krugerrand was a much more difficult fight.
Ask the manager of Deak-Perera if you can still purchase a krugerrand and he'll pop into the back of the shop and re-emerge with one tucked in the palm of his hand. It is a deep yellow gold and finely minted at a size slightly larger than a quarter. Zeng glances at his computer for the going rate.
The Free South Africa Movement still deserves much credit for increasing awareness about what the coin stands for, and at least halting much of the insidiously insulting advertisement that went with it.
But the movement will need much more support for the next step, the move to ban the sale and importation of the krugerrand. Until recently, protesting against South African policies had been easy. You could get arrested at the South African Embassy and not even go to jail. There were opportunities to express dissatisfaction in opinion polls, surveys and radio talk shows.
Now comes the moment of truth, for the krugerrand brings the issue down to a personal pocketbook level. It's about money, a sure fire investment that has lured hundreds of thousands of Americans to coin shops and precious metal centers around the country. From January through October 1984, U.S. krugerrand purchases totaled $484.7 million.
A one-ounce maple leaf costs $330.50. A one-ounce krugerrand at Deak-Perera costs $335. The average black South African miner's wage is $232 a month, one-fifth the average white miner's wage of $1,267.
In an article entitled, "Buying a Piece of Apartheid," the American Committee on Africa notes that "white wealth and black poverty have been the pattern in South Africa ever since the discovery of gold in the 1860s. It was the gold mines' demand for cheap black labor that laid the basis for the racism and social and economic inequality later codified under the laws of apartheid."
Inside Deak-Perera, Zeng fingers a krugerrand and notes that it is the most expensive gold piece in the store. "It just cost more to make," Zeng says.
This is an understatement when measured in black lives lost in gold mines, but that could make it easier for some to turn over a new leaf.