Diverse groups gear up for US apartheid protests
After a summer-long lull, American protests against South African apartheid are coming back in full force. United States college students are back on campus now, and the nation's largest-ever series of anti-apartheid marches and rallies is scheduled for today and over the weekend.
Officially, the occasion is the United Nations International Day for Southern African Political Prisoners. Coincidentally, it also marks the day that US sanctions barring the sale of South African Krugerrands take effect. (South African reaction, Page 6.)
Protests are planned in at least 30 major cities and on more than 100 college campuses, according to organizers. Locations range from New York City to Honolulu, from Minneapolis to Miami. The American Friends Service Committee, helping to organize the events, expects 60,000 protesters nationwide and perhaps twice as many.
The theme of the day, says Joshua Nessen, national student coordinator for the American Committee on Africa (ACOA), ``is total economic withdrawal from South Africa.''
Protesters take to the streets claiming some valued successes. Since last April (the last major protests), 28 colleges and universities have partly or completely divested from companies doing business with South Africa.
Recently Columbia University's trustees voted to sell virtually all of that school's $39 million in stock in American companies doing business in South Africa. According to Mr. Nessen, 31 cities and 11 states have now undertaken some measures for divestment. As another measure, the South Africa Foundation, a group representing South African businesses in Washington D.C., counts some 90 bills concerning South Africa introduced to Congress last year.
Anti-apartheid, says Ibrahim Gassama, a research fellow with the lobbying group TransAfrica, ``is one of the few movements of this age that have gotten support across the ideological spectrum. . . . It has made a difference in the perception of people of what's going on in South Africa and with the reception we get from members of Congress.''
The lead organization in this weekend's protests is ACOA. Its allies in these activities are a mix of student, church, labor, ethnic, and community groups.
The protesters' targets vary. In New York, a rally by a broad coalition of groups is urging consumers to withdraw money from Citibank, which has South African ties. In Detroit, General Motors is the target of a rally. In Boston the target is IBM; in Nashville it's the state of Tennessee; and in Baltimore it's W. Bell Company -- a marketer of Krugerrands.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, protesters want the public to be aware of the role local ports play in South African trade, according to Willia Gray of the Bay Area Free South Africa Movement. ``Our uniqueness is that we stand at a place to intercept the trade,'' she says. But she readily acknowledges that a local embargo on cargo bound for or from South Africa would be illegal.
Mike Shea, political liaison for the statewide Arizona public employees union APEA-AFSCME Council 97, is organizing rallies in Phoenix and Tucson. He points out that US companies like Phelps Dodge Corporation, which runs copper mines in Arizona, have been exporting American jobs to South Africa.
``The main reason people don't get involved is they don't know how directly they're involved,'' says Los Angeles organizer Ed Waters, of the Free South Africa Movement. ``When you tell labor that plants are closing down here and moving to South Africa, that gets them.''
On Oct. 1 President Reagan ordered a ban on importation of the South African Krugerrand into the United States. The President took actions after the Senate, including key Republicans, threatened to revive legislation calling for stricter sanctions against South Africa.
But protesters put little stock in President Reagan's sanctions against the Krugerrand. ``The whole emphasis of this day is that what Ronald Reagan has done -- which was to preempt stronger congressional action -- is only going to encourage people to push more substantive action,'' says Mr. Nessen of ACOA.
At the South Africa Foundation, a group in Washington, D.C., that represents the South African private sector, deputy director John Montgomery sees little effect from either the sanctions or the protests.
He notes that when cities, states, and universities sell off stock in companies that do business with South Africa, someone else buys it. The divestors, then, only lose leverage for reform.
``In order to make the symbolic gesture, to appease the clamor, one is indulging in a kind of masochism with very little effect,'' he says.