Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

U.S. Colleges and Apartheid: More Challenges

Irenita Benbow Assensoh

American colleges and universities have recently been actively involved in the struggle against apartheid policies in South Africa. In most cases, predominantly black universities have been on the forefront of the struggle. In the following article, Mrs. Irenita Benbow Assensoh of the Orleans Schools System in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, analyses more anti-apartheid measures on predominantly white university campuses in the United States..
Between 1984 and 1985, students of various American colleges and universi- ties have shown their hatred and overall dislike for apartheid policies of South Africa through campus demonstrations. Such anti-apartheid protests have even included the seizure of administrative buildings, classrooms and the harassment of officials suspected to harbour pro-apartheid tendencies; the protesters perpetrate these acts to show that they are very serious in their quest for radical changes in South African politics.

Since January 1986, however, educational leaders of American academic institutions, including members of the boards of trustees of any prominent and predominantly white colleges and universities, have given the struggle against apartheid an unlimited boost. Such leaders have openly advertised their anti-apartheid positions by calling for stringent measures which, in the end, would essentially weaken the position of President P.W. Botha and his cabinet ministers in South Africa.

Towards this end, administrators of various American colleges and universi- ties have taken steps to implement measures against apartheid South Africa. The institutions of higher learning concerned include four prominent col- leges and universities which have immediately taken steps to withdraw their investments in companies doing business in South Africa these days.

At Cornell University, it was publicly announced that the investment committee of its board of trustees has recommended that the institution should embark on selective divestment of stock totalling over $121 million in various companies which are still maintaining business interests in South Africa. Also, it is now openly known that the Northeastern University has already sold its $7 million in stocks in all the companies which are currently doing business in South Africa despite the brutal measures against the black majority.

Two other American colleges - Rider College and Emerson College, respec- tively have followed the footsteps of the others in their divestment policies. For example, the board of trustees of Rider College has voted to sell its stock of about $3.5 million in 15 companies which are continuously carrying out business activi- ties in the apartheid enclave, while Emerson College's board of trustees has voted overwhelmingly to sell the college's $44,000 in stock invested in pro-apartheid companies in the United States.

Indeed, it is very crucial to underscore the fact that the various colleges and universities have decided to take the foregoing official steps after gaining an extensive understanding of the inimical posture of apartheid policies in South Africa. Therefore, many prestigious educational institutions are adopting measures which will surely keep them abreast with the dynamics and overall scope of apartheid policies in South Africa.

In New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana has, so far, taken similar steps to acquaint its administrators, faculty, staff and students with information about apartheid issues. Tulane is a prestigious research university which has had many of its researchers and faculty members winning local and international awards, including a Nobel Prize in a science area. Consequently, Mrs. Linda H. Asay, Tulane's Vice President for External Affairs, recently extended an invitation to Dr. A.B. Assensoh of Dillard University in New Orleans to speak at a luncheon of administrators, faculty and staff employees on their campus. Dr. Assensoh spoke about apartheid as it affected blacks in South Africa and Africans in general, with emphasis on ways and means of undermining apartheid through economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Mrs. Asay, who is a lawyer by training, has had a distinguished corporate back- ground through her work for New York- based corporate concerns. In an introduc- tion, she told the luncheon guests that it was necessary for the Tulane University community to have the opportunity of listening to individuals who have the expertise and experience in African history and politics, including apartheid issues.

In his talk, Dr. Assensoh emphasised that anti-South Africa economic sanctions would certainly work very well if "it is accompanied by effective diplomatic sanctions". He added: "It is certainly useless for any government to have active diplomatic relations with apartheid South Africa and, at the same time, announce only economic sanctions against Botha and his collaborators. In my opinion, it won't work, and it is a huge joke."

During a question-and-answer session, Dr. Assensoh discussed the six principles of the so-called "Sullivan Code". The code, written in 1976 by the Reverend Leon H. Sullivan, a Black American clergyman, is meant to be a guide for American investors in efforts to help bring about moral and constitutional changes in South Africa's apartheid policies.

So far, the Republican Administration of President Ronald Reagan has endorsed the six principles as a workable guide for those who endorse peaceful and evolu- tionary change in South Africa. Among other details, the six principles call for such crucial changes as the non-segregation of the races in all eating and recreational places in South Africa, equal and fair employment practices, equal pay for equal work, training programmes for all employees to ensure progress in their jobs regardless of their racial backgrounds, increase in the member of non-whites in managerial positions and overall improvement of the quality of employees' lives outside their places of work without any racial bias.

Meanwhile it is also the belief of many Americans now that with excellent education for the blacks of South Africa, they may be in a better position to face the iniquities and dynamics of apartheid policies squarely. Therefore, many voluntary organisations have begun, early this year, to raise funds to increase educational opportunities for black South Africans.

Among such new fund-raising American organisations are the Medical Education for South African Black Incorporated and the Cape of Good Hope Foundation, an anti-apartheid organisa- tion with Professor Ned Munger of the California Institute of Technology as the founder-cum-president. In his opinion, Professor Munger has stressed that "people who want to see a more just society in South Africa are now looking beyond financial divestment to human investment".

In New York, Hunter College hosted an assembly of "Writers Against Apartheid" on Sunday January 19, 1986 to raise funds for the African Arts Fund, which is meant for the support of South African blacks who do not have any access to artistic training but wish to study in the United States. Among the distinguished writers, who participated in the event, were Norman Mailer, who was recently elected the President of the London-based Inter- national P.E.N., Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, Nadine, Gordimer, Dennis Brutus, Breyten Breytenbach and Sipho Sepamla.

As part of the evening's fund-raising event, the writers read from their works. Nadine Gordimer, the celebrated South African writer, offered a reading that was anti-apartheid, while Toni Morrison read from what she referred to as a work-in-progress. Mailer, in an effort to be close to home, read from "The Flight", his account of the Ali-Foreman boxing fight in Zaire some years ago.

Other writers played compelling roles at the Hunter College literary jamboree. J.M. Coetzee, the South African writer and author of Life and Times of Michal K., read from a scene in the book... Margaret Artwood, the well-known Canadian author, and Sontag, however, decided to speak metaphorically about issues dealing with injustice and commitment.

Apart from readings from the works of participants, the moderator, Elizabeth Hardwick, permitted the works of such Black American writers as Louis Satchmo Armstrong, Amiri Baraka, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp and Dinah Washington to be read. For example, a poem entitled "Children of the Earth" stole the show that evening and, as expected, the audience contributed generously to the African Arts Fund.

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