TBT: South African divestment protests

The university just wrapped up celebrating South African History Month, but it should be acknowledged that this campus has a long, complex history with the country.

Review archives
A demonstrator cries freedom during the 1989 divestment rally in front of Memorial Hall.

More than 250 people protested near the steps of Memorial Hall on May 16, 1989, calling for the university to divest over $47 million from South African companies. The protest––which was spurred by South African apartheid policies––was a reflection of a six-year controversy in which students, professors and community members called on the university to cut business interests with South Africa.

Professor Chuck Stone, a journalism professor at the time, was co-chair of the African-American Coalition. He spoke out against apartheid at the 1989 protest.

“Divestment in 1989 is the same issue as slavery was in 1869––there are no differences,” Stone said. “We are mighty on morality and the South Africans we stand with, hear us!”

The Faculty Senate voted against divestment in 1991, and protests slowly became more infrequent as conditions in South Africa began to improve. The university had business interests with several companies tied to South Africa, including Dupont and Johnson & Johnson, which was cited as a reason for not divesting.

Organizations such as Black Student Union, Newark Rainbow Coalition and College Democrats were strong supporters of divestment, but The Review noted apathy being common among most of the student population.

“This school lacks motivation,” one student noted. “This is not a radical school.”

Another student: “People don’t show up for football games, let alone something like this.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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