June 19, 2019 | 65° F

A glance at Rutgers protests during apartheid

Known as the icon against apartheid, South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela died yesterday, according to the South African government, sending strong shockwaves around the world.

In a televised address, South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela died at 8:50 p.m. local time.

“His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world,” he said. “His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him their love.”

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered remarks on Mandela’s death yesterday at The White House, stating that Mandela now “belongs to the ages.”

“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or in our own personal lives,” he said.

When protests against apartheid picked up, Rutgers was at the forefront in terms of protesting for a complete divestment, or reduction of investment, of Rutgers holdings in firms with operations in South Africa.

In an article published by The Daily Targum on February 11, 1985, about 60 protestors staged a sit-in at a meeting of the Rutgers Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees.

The trustees and the board approved a policy to withdraw $3.6 million in securities from seven American companies in South Africa. At the time, Rutgers had $13.1 million invested in 17 U.S. firms conducting business the then-Republic of South Africa.

But the approved measure was only a partial divestment, which angered protestors who vowed to protest at every meeting until their voice was heard.

“We ask you to divest and you provide us with a travesty and an insult,” said Assad Akar, one of the protest’s organizers and a member of Rutgers Coalition for Divestment in the article. “You value the dollar above a human life.”

Then-University President Edward J. Bloustein supported the approved measures and said a total divestment would only punish the companies working in South Africa for the good of the people. His support led protestors to verbally attack him at the meeting. Shouts of “Impeach the president” resounded at the meeting whenever Bloustein spoke.

“Insult does nothing to advance one’s argument,” Bloustein said to the protestors, according to the article.

According to an article in the Global Nonviolent Action Database, news of Rutgers’ coalition’s protestors continued to make national headlines.

“The efforts at Rutgers began to be grouped with efforts from many other schools including Columbia, Cornell, California-Berkeley, and others,” the article read.

Members of the Rutgers coalition sent letters to the Board of Governors and other administration members asking for a joint meeting to discuss total divestment, but the administration responded stating that there was no reason for a joint meeting at the time.

“The Coalition responded by hosting the first national sleep-in for apartheid that culminated with a rally and funeral march for all of those who were slain in South Africa,” the article read.

On August 20, then New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean signed into law a divestment bill that would remove $2 billion worth in investments of pension funds from companies with a connection to South Africa.

“Eventually, Rutgers University announced a total divestment worth $6.4 million from over 10 companies, including Coca Cola and IBM. The decision was announced on Oct. 17, and made Rutgers one of over 20 schools that adopted or that would go on to adopt policies of at least partial divestment from companies that did business with South Africa,” the article read.

By Julian Chokkattu

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