5Cs invest in apartheid despite student opposition

Despite stiff opposition to investments in South Africa, the 5Cs largely kept assets during apartheid until state law prohibited it (Courtesy: Honnold Mudd Archives)

By October 1985, Pomona College had reportedly invested $13,459,810 in companies with ties to South Africa during the apartheid, according to Pomona’s then-President John Alexander’s memo to TSL.

“It would be deeply offensive to me if I were accused of being for apartheid,” Alexander said in the memo. “But I don’t think selling these stocks is going to make me a better person.”

In 1985, the country was still embroiled in a nearly 40 year struggle with apartheid –- institutionalized racial segregation of Black South Africans — a government enforced system rooted in white supremacy. The South African government poured money into American businesses, and the institutions that invested in them, which included the 5Cs.

Students first discovered Pomona’s involvement with apartheid stock holdings, after the faculty Commission on South African Issues released Pomona Vice President Fred Moon’s financial report in April 1979. 

“Investments are like guns; they put distance between us and our actions,” Faith Richie wrote in an opinion for TSL. “White South Africans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world, while 80% of black families in the country live below subsistence level. Pomona College has over $5 million invested in corporations with subsidiaries in South Africa … Is that responsible?”

But Pomona College was not the only administration entangled in apartheid investments at the time. According to the Los Angeles Times, all of the Claremont Colleges had invested millions of dollars of their respective stock portfolios into “firms with South African ties.” 

“Spokesmen for Pomona, Harvey Mudd and Scripps colleges said those schools have no plans to divest,” Jesse Katz of the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1986.

But the resistance to the apartheid was brewing at the 5Cs. Students Against Apartheid (SAA) organized a “South Africa Awareness” week to demand that Pitzer College, Pomona and Claremont Graduate University divest their funds. Many students felt that the 5Cs’ refusal to divert funds suggested complicity in the oppression at the root of Black issues.

“The issue of divestment forces us to question our own priorities regarding human dignity, our fear of communism, and our love of profits,” Lara Broadfield wrote in an opinion for TSL. 

Outspoken Pomona professor S.J. Lamelle expressed disapproval for the colleges’ persistent investment in South Africa. Additionally, the BSU hosted a Candlelight March to protest the 5C administration’s failure to explicitly condemn segregation and support Black rights. 

“[An] often heard […] argument is that [Black people] in South Africa will be the ones who will suffer the most,” Lamelle said. “The majority of [Black people] in South Africa […] say that any such suffering is preferable to the suffering caused by the continuation of the apartheid.”

But other faculty were more reluctant to divest funds from South Africa, regardless of its apparent impact on Black rights. 

“There is no disagreement that apartheid is a bad system,” CMC President Jack Stark said. “How we can be the most effective in changing it is a subject where there is a lot of room for disagreement.”

Despite any existing policies on socially responsible investment, Alexander continued to defend the near ten year investment into apartheid affiliated companies.

“We are frustrated — we want to do something to help [Black people] in South Africa,” Alexander said. “I don’t think divestment or disinvestment is going to help.

Instead, Alexander and then-Pitzer President Frank Ellsworth called for “understanding” and “cooperation” between people of different races but did not recommend any direct action. 

After numerous student and faculty anti-apartheid demonstrations, the Pitzer College Board of Trustees and the Claremont University Consortium Board of Trustees agreed to withdraw a portion of stocks by the end of the decade. On June 17, 1991, the South African government repealed its apartheid legislation. According to a Feb. 1991 issue of TSL, the other colleges allegedly did not relinquish investments until mandated by California’s Assembly Bill 134, which required all California institutions to sever ties with South Africa. 

Facebook Comments