HUMAN RIGHTS: South Africa Sanctions: Last Act, November 1993
SOCIAL TOPICS (Archive): HUMAN RIGHTS
South Africa Sanctions: Last Act
Published, November 1993
On September 24 at the United Nations, Nelson Mandela officially called for an end to international economic sanctions against South Africa.
The lifting of sanctions followed the meeting of four conditions established earlier by the African National Congress (ANC) and other pro-democracy organizations: 1) setting a date, April 27, 1994, for democratic national elections; 2) the establishment by Parliament of a Transitional Executive Council to serve as an interim government; 3) the formation of an independent election commission; and 4) the creation of an independent media commission to assure fair and unbiased reporting.
In celebration of this long-awaited landmark for South Africa and the divestment movement, United States Trust Company hosted a press conference in Boston as Mr. Mandela addressed the United Nations. (See below.)
In anticipation of the lifting of sanctions, we wrote in June to all portfolio companies that previously withdrew from South Africa as well as those that remained, calling on them to be a partner in the democratic development of South Africa. We thanked those that honored sanctions for their role in moving South Africa toward democracy. To all firms we sent a copy of the Guiding Principles for Foreign Investors adopted by the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
The Guiding Principles identify a long list of corporate responsibilities including workers’ rights, community economic development and environmental integrity. The ANC has announced that these Principles will serve as the foundation of its legislative agenda. More than a dozen companies responded to our letter. Most endorsed the spirit of the Principles.
The lifting of sanctions will mean changes for our accounts with South African-related screens. For those clients whose South African screens require formal board or legislative action, we will continue to honor South African screens until otherwise notified. For others, as we said in our July letter to clients, we believe it is appropriate to evaluate companies with investments in South Africa according to our present human rights screens. Under these screens we would exclude those firms that have demonstrated a consistent disregard for worker’s rights, use child labor and have directly supported repressive government activities.
The struggle in South Africa, which many of us have supported for the better part of our adult lives, does not end with the lifting of sanctions. Establishing a viable democracy is difficult enough under ideal conditions; the hurdles in South Africa are far more challenging. Those who oppose democracy have stepped up their campaign of lethal violence. As the black majority now prepares to assume positions of leadership they continue to be hindered by the systematic injustice of the past which has left them without the resources or the experience of the white minority.
In the months ahead we will be working to provide technical assistance to those preparing for the birth of democracy, in part through the development of investment products targeted at community economic development. We will also maintain a close dialogue with companies considering reinvestment, advocating an awareness of the unique needs within South Africa.
The work of rebuilding what hatred and injustice have destroyed promises to be a long and difficult process. Social investing helped to end the old regime; it should also work to support the new.
A Victory for Social Investing
A press conference hosted by USTC at its Boston headquarters on September 24 featured anti-apartheid leaders from the Northeast calling for legislative action to rescind local sanctions against South Africa. Massachusetts State Rep. Byron Rushing announced he was collaborating on legislation that would end the prohibition on investing the state’s pension funds in companies operating in South Africa. Boston City Councilor Charles C. Yancy said he would take similar action on the municipal level.
USTC Senior Vice President Robert Zevin, a long-time divestment activist, opened the press conference with praise for all who had played leading roles in the anti-apartheid effort. Excerpts from his remarks follow:
“I want to emphasize that as Nelson Mandela has explicitly said, and as President DeKlerk has strongly implied, sanctions have worked. It is also important to note that sanctions were brought into being by the combined actions of social investors, students, teachers, foundations, churches, nurses, doctors, voters, unions, cities, states and numerous other constituencies. All found common cause in a seemingly abstract issue in which they had little direct interest. In concert they moved cities and states, universities and churches, corporations and the federal government. This and parallel actions around the world played a crucial role in ending apartheid. Of course the greatest contributions came from the thousands of South Africans who demonstrated and spoke and endured imprisonment, torture and murder.
“We should all acknowledge with humility that we need each other to effect change. And we should all recognize with confidence that together we can change the world.”
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