Published: Thursday, February 4, 2010
After an intensive anti-sweatshop campaign last spring led by students in the Sweatshop-Free Coalition and University Community for Human Rights, President Robert Shelton had the UA divest our financial holdings in the Russell Corporation due to the company”s singularly cruel labor abuses in its factories in Honduras. Now, while all eyes are on Shelton as he continues to sit on the UA”s illegal business contracts with Caterpillar and Motorola, it”s worth noting that divestment activism on campus stretches back far beyond Shelton”s tenure and probably beyond everything else on campus except for the oldest of UA”s buildings.
Reeling through the Daily Wildcat archives from the fall semester of 1985 yields front page after front page of news stories reporting on the state violence committed by the white, minority-led, racist apartheid South African regime over its black majority. The South African blacks were brutally repressed to savage levels that echoed, and in some ways greatly surpassed, America”s own cruel apartheid system dismantled by the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and “60s.
Following waves of anti-apartheid activism led by students and community around the UA and ASU pressuring the Arizona Board of Regents to divest, on Monday Sept. 9, 1985, the Daily Wildcat reported that, at its meeting on Sept. 6, ABOR ordered both universities “to divest their holdings in companies doing business in South Africa,” some $3.4 million.
A collective address was given at the beginning of the meeting by representatives from ASU Black Student Union, Students Against Apartheid at ASU, Arizona Coalition Against Apartheid, Tucsonans Against Apartheid, African Students” Union and an in absentia representation from a leading union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Regent Edith Auslander introduced the measure at the meeting that led to ABOR”s divestment. Today, after retiring in 2008 from her role as a senior associate in the UA president”s office, Auslander is a development consultant for the UA Foundation. In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Auslander explained, “It”s important to understand that the money was such a drop in the bucket in the total picture of investments in South Africa, and ABOR”s divestment would be a symbolic gesture that could demonstrate anti-apartheid sentiment.”
Seeming to explain such sentiment was Regent Esther N. Capin, who voted for the divestment measure, remarking that “investment has become a symbol for support of policies that I find obscene and abhorrent.”
In addition to divestment from companies involved with South Africa, the Wildcat reported, ABOR made a broader move “aimed at establishing a policy for actions of a similar nature,” modifying the universities” investment policy “to include non-traditional goals that would preclude investment in corporations with policies or practices that cause substantial social injury.”
But 2010 presents perhaps the most serious challenge yet to the UA”s ability to act honorably in the important social struggles of our time.
Motorola and Caterpillar, two companies perpetuating grisly crimes upon mostly Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, are so unspeakable as to have prompted Jewish South African politician Ronnie Kasrils, who was quoted in the United Kingdom”s Guardian in a 2006 article, to denounce the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation as “much worse than apartheid” of the sort under which Kasrils and others survived for so many long, bloody years.
A rich history has proven that UA students have risen to the occasion of doing everything they can to disassociate themselves and their universities from such atrocities. One doesn”t have to look far to see that such a time has come again.
– Gabriel Matthew Schivone is an art, literature and media studies junior. He can be reached at letters[at]wildcat.arizona.edu.