Much of the anti-apartheid effort in this country has focused on weakening South Africa's white minority regime. A coalitionof black educators and church leaders is proposing a program to strengthen the black majority.
"I know there are those who say Americans should just get out of South Africa," said W. Clyde Williams, "but there are black lives that we have to deal with. Our basic concern is to improve educational opportunities for the nonwhite majority in terms of preparing them for the post-apartheid period."
Williams, executive secretary of the Christian Methodist Church, former president of Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., and general secretary of the newly formed Coalition on Southern Africa, was part of a 15-member delegation -- mostly black college presidents -- that visited South Africa early last year.
"We were dismayed at the disparity in educational opportunities for whites and nonwhites in the country -- the disparate pupil-teacher ratios, the fact that less than 1 percent of black men have finished high school and many black children are not in school at all, the fact that many of the black teachers have less than a high school education themselves -- and we made a commitment that we would try to do something about it.
"There's a lot of talk about divestment, and we agree that something should be happening to abolish apartheid. We join that effort. But at the same time, there is another component that has to be dealt with, as it was following the civil rights movement and during Reconstruction in this country. A lot of people were freed, but they weren't able to exercise their freedom because of their lack of education."
The coalition has proposed a number of steps, including increasing the number of U.S. scholarships available to black South African students, the creation of a consortium to help train South African teachers and efforts to spawn black-owned businesses in South Africa through joint ventures and "co-ventures" with black American businessmen.
There are also plans to send a number of black American students to South Africa "to see at firsthand the need for educational improvement there and perhaps make a commitment" to doing something about it.
"We are looking at efforts that can enhance black economic opportunity, educational improvement and managerial development," said Richard L. Fisher, presiding bishop of the 11th Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church, in announcing the program this month.
"The plight of the black South African worker has been disregarded in public debate about what to do to end apartheid. While this fight must go on, we must not lose sight of our concern for the victims.
"We are deeply concerned that South Africa avoid the nightmare of Reconstruction as experienced by blacks here at the close of the Civil War."
The domestic political problem for the coalition is that to do what it has in mind requires some degree of cooperation with the ruling white regime in South Africa -- something that is wildly unpopular here, as witnessed by the abandonment by the Rev. Leon Sullivan of the fair-employment principles to which he had lent his name.
"It is a risk," Dr. Williams acknowledges, "but somebody has to take the risk, and I think that those of us who are in the educational and religious arena have a special responsibility to do so. I know we are going to get clobbered, but I see it as almost a mandate."
He said members of the coalition plan to return to South Africa to establish a counterpart organization there that would make most of the decisions, thus avoiding direct political involvement by the American group. He said the coalition hopes to raise money for the project primarily through the various branches of the Methodist Church.
The coalition may be underestimating the difficulty of accomplishing what it has in mind. Certainly it's hard to imagine that it could somehow reform an educational system that has the government spending a twelfth as much per capita on black students as on whites.
But it could help. And it does make sense to begin thinking about helping the victims of apartheid and not merely hurting those who perpetuate i