THE HISTORY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR DIVESTMENT AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY
by Coalition for a Free South Africa
New York, New York, United States
Undated, Fall 1983?
The divestment movement at Columbia University began in the late 1970s, after the Soweto student uprising protesting racist education policies in 1976. The police shooting of peaceful protestors in South Africa stimulated widespread protests on U.S. college campuses, including at Columbia. In 1978, largely in response to student protests, Columbia divested $2.7 million from banks with financial connections to South Africa. However, from 1978 to 1981, there was very little campus activity on South Africa. In 1981, the Columbia University Coalition for a Free South Africa was formed, as a committee of the Black Student Organization. It evolved into an independent, multi-racial organization with a broad base of support. Its main objectives were to educate students and faculty about South Africa and to mobilize opposition to apartheid. The Coalition believes that students can support the liberation struggle in South Africa by pressuring Columbia and similar institutions to divest their holdings in U.S. companies operating in South Africa. As of June, 1983, Columbia had over $44 million invested in such corporations. Over the past three years, numerous anti-apartheid events have been organized on campus, including rallies and forums attended by more than 200 people and a petition calling for Columbia to divest that gained more than 600 signatures. Prominent speakers at events have included representatives from the United Nations, the African National Congress (ANC), former U.S. Ambassador Elliott Skinner, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and Donald Woods (author of “Biko”). On March 25, 1983, three members of the Coalition who were also elected representatives to the University Senate introduced a resolution urging the Trustees of Columbia to divest totally of South Africa-related stocks. This resolution was passed unanimously by the student and faculty members of the Senate, but the Trustees and administration rejected the Senate's recommendation. In response to the administration's refusal to divest, the Coalition hopes to broaden its base of support for divestment, not only among Columbia affiliates, but among members of the surrounding Harlem community, as well.
Used by permission of former members of the Coalition for a Free Southern Africa.
Collection: Private collection of Daniel Armstrong