(NNPA)—If I close my eyes, I can remember 1984. I am among those running from meeting to meeting working to pass Proposition J, the San Francisco ballot initiative that required the city to divest pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa. The ballot initiative had to get two-thirds of the vote because it dealt with money, and even in progressive San Francisco, some thought getting votes out might be challenging. But a cross section of activists committed to divestment worked our tails off, and prevailed. San Francisco became among the first, and one of the largest, of our nation’s cities to divest public pension funds.
I wish I could distill the energy that came from those rallies and community meetings. I can remember, with just one eye shut, the chants and songs, “South Africa will be free, South Africa will be free, Will be free South Africa.” Students were among those to put themselves on the line for divestment, confronting their college and university leaders about the status of investments. The Free South Africa Movement was not a student movement, not a grass roots movement. It was simply a movement for justice that succeeded because many elements of our nation were involved.
Those of us who favored divestment were following the lead of the African National Congress, who asked allies around the world to make South Africa “ungovernable.” If massive divestment could stop the flow of dollars to South Africa (dollars that could be used to step up military action against innocent civilians), that would place pressure on the South African economy to make choices with dwindling resources. Would fighting to maintain apartheid be one of those? Divestment might make apartheid too expensive to maintain, or so we hoped. The divestment efforts contrasted sharply with the Sullivan Principles, crafted by the late Leon Sullivan, who asked US companies to stay in South Africa but only under certain conditions that dealt with fair pay and working conditions. Those American corporations doing business with South Africa were getting lots of flack for choosing oppressors as their business partners.