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Anti-apartheid actions recalled

By Emily Inouye

May 17, 2004 9:00 p.m.

In South Africa, apartheid caused people to lose their jobs,
their homes and sometimes their lives. In the United States, it led
to calls for complete separation from South African relations. It
brought about widespread protests and debate, including at UCLA.
From protests to rallies to sit-ins and arrests, UCLA was no
stranger to the activity that surrounded apartheid and the
excitement when the apartheid regime fell in 1994, 10 years ago. In
South Africa, the Afrikaner Nationalist Party was elected to power
in 1948, and apartheid was an official policy in its platform. The
purpose of apartheid was separate development, allowing individual
ethnicities to exist separately from the influences of others.
Through the succeeding years, the apartheid regime consumed the
country as it became increasingly repressive of black members of
society. But apartheid soon fell within the spotlight of the world
and UCLA.

UCLA anti-apartheid activism The 2,000
protesters did not gather on April 23, 1985 on the UCLA campus to
protest apartheid. Such a protest was not necessary in the United
States because there were few who would admit to supporting
apartheid. “Nobody in their right mind would say that
apartheid is a good thing,” said Edward Alpers, a history
professor at UCLA who participated in protests regarding South
Africa during the 1980s. “Some people would disagree with
political tactic rounds and political symbolism.” Rather,
they rallied to demand that the University of California divest UC
funds from companies that did business with South Africa, which
totalled about $3.1 billion. This business, they said, continued to
provide the National Party-controlled government with the funds
necessary to keep apartheid in place. Following the rally, students
moved into Murphy Hall, and about 65 students spent the night in
the hallways, according to Daily Bruin reports. Students and others
continued their residence in Murphy Hall until the evening of April
25 when police arrested 20 students and a local resident in an
attempt to restore order to Murphy. But police efforts to disperse
protesters proved futile, as that evening several students began
putting up tents in the Schoenberg Quad. Faculty members also
joined in the movement for divestment, forming a committee named
Faculty for Divestment with 30 original members. “I was part
of the Faculty for Divestment,” Alpers said. “The
students didn’t know how to organize, so there was a lot of
working with the faculty and students and staff in the entire UC
system to get the regents to divest. It would not be an economic
killer, but it would send a big message.” The tent city,
dubbed Nelson Mandela Village after the leader of the African
National Congress and the primary political figure fighting
apartheid, continued to grow, especially after another rally held
on May 1. The tent city grew to about 50 tents housing about 150
protesters, and the UCLA administration granted them permission to
remain until May 16. The deadline was later extended to June 10 to
coincide with the UC Regents meeting on the UCLA campus, in which
they would be voting on specific divestment proposals. Another
similar protest focused on a speaker event supported by the
department of Germanic languages. Associate Professor Chris Van der
Merwe came from the University of Cape Town to speak to students
about Afrikaans literature. Afrikaans was then considered to be the
language of the oppressor because it was the language spoken by the
controlling, pro-apartheid party. Robert Kirsner, a UCLA professor
of Dutch and Afrikaans, said he brought in Van der Merwe to speak
on Afrikaans novels not because he supported the apartheid, as
protesters accused him of. “Afrikaners were responsible for
apartheid, but they still have literature and stuff,” Kirsner
said. “It was the language of the folks doing the oppressing,
but do you punish the language? My own perspective is that language
is neat; literature is neat.” Kirsner said the student
protest was another form of calling for divestment, not only in
terms of money but academics as well. “The academic boycott
came from the idea that (South Africa) should be totally
isolated,” Kirsner said. “My view has been limited as a
linguist. My major task was to build up Dutch, and all of a sudden
I found myself in the middle of a demonstration because I had
someone talking about literature.” But not everyone agreed
with the divestment process, saying it could hurt the very people
it was meant to save. “There was criticism of the protests
that they were shortsighted,” said John Sandbrook, special
assistant to the executive dean, and the assistant chancellor in
the 1980s. “They said that if America pulled out, South
Africa would do business with other countries such as Japan.”
Other protests were held through the following months, encouraging
the regents to divest UC funds from South Africa. But it
wasn’t until the end of 1985 that action was taken.

UC policy and divestment Even with the tent
city, protests and other forms of activism, the proposal for
divestment was defeated by a vote of 16 to 10 on June 10, 1985. But
later that year, the University Committee on Education Exchange
Programs with South Africa was formed to discuss how the system
should react to apartheid. UCLA political science Professor Edmond
Keller taught at UC Santa Barbara during the 1980s and was a member
of the committee representing UCSB. He said that though the
students were calling for total divestment, the committee did not
think it would be wise. “Our committee looked at this and we
came up with the idea that if we made a total disinvestment, we
might end up hurting the people we were trying to help,” he
said. Instead, he said the committee recommended the UC only divest
from specific industries, such as the nuclear industry, petroleum
and others. They did not want to divest from industries that
provided resources such as food and clothing for fear that it would
hurt the South African people. The ideas presented by the committee
met mixed reactions, but in July 1986 the regents enacted a new
investment policy. The policy stated that the UC would gradually
divest from specified companies. The committee also included
suggestions for career development and an educational agreement
with South Africa to enhance exchange programs to improve
educational opportunities available to black South Africans.

The fall of apartheid Starting with the
movements throughout the 1980s, the apartheid regime was gradually
weakened, and in 1990 Mandela was released from prison. By 1991 the
government had repealed many of its laws, and on April 27, 1994 the
first free all-race elections were held. Though UCLA played a small
part in protesting apartheid, students and faculty had found a
common cause behind which to unite. “It was very exciting;
people were politically involved,” Alpers said. “There
were so many things going on; it was very symbolic especially taken
all together because it was happening on every UC

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Emily Inouye
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