Calvin College took a stand against South African Apartheid by Divesting


Last week we posted a piece about the early efforts at organizing in Grand Rapids around defeating South African Apartheid.  Numerous community groups and organizations pushed the Grand Rapids City Council to adopt a resolution against having any investments in companies or financial institutions doing business in South Africa.

Besides the work done to pressure the City of grand Rapids, other efforts were taking place in Grand Rapids that were part of the larger Anti-Apartheid Movement targeting South Africa. Calvin College was one of those entities that participated in this movement.

Beginning in the early 1980s, students and faculty members began investigating the issue, especially since the Christian Reformed Church was directly involved in the historical dynamics that contributed to Apartheid policies in South Africa.

One thing that made the Anti-Apartheid campaign get off the ground was the presence of Allan Boesak, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and one of the leading Anti-Apartheid activists from South Africa. Boesak not only spoke at Calvin College in 1983, he was invite to be a visiting professor.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.02.30 AM

This relationship with Boesak was important for the longevity of the Anti-Apartheid Movement on Calvin’s campus, because now students and faculty had a relationship with someone who was the target of South African government harassment. Evidence of how the Calvin community was engaged around this personal relationship with Boesak is evidenced by a letter sent and signed by dozens of Calvin faculty (pages 1 – 10), which was addressed to then South African President Botha. The letter, like so many others from that movement put pressure on the South African government to end their abuse of those involved in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.38.01 AM

Coverage of the Anti-Apartheid efforts at Calvin can be found in the student newspaper, The Chimes, over a several year period.  One can see that there were ongoing efforts to educate the campus community on the issues centered around South African Apartheid, but most of the coverage was about the actual campaign of divestment.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.02.12 AM

Students and faculty had begun a campaign to get Calvin College to divest from any company profiting off of racist Apartheid policies. The Student Senate had done the research looking into how much money Calvin College had invested in companies doing business in South Africa and in a letter to the college president in October of 1985, they provide a breakdown of this money. (page 13) Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 3.26.27 AM

One can see that the amount was not very large, especially when compared to larger colleges and universities across the country, but the amount was not relevant to the students organizing around the campaign. in fact, the students deeply involved in the campaign had very well thought out arguments in response to those who questioned the efficacy of divestment (pages 16 – 21) anti-apartheid-poster

This well organized campaign paid off, when the finance committee of the Board of Trustees decided to divest Calvin College funds from two companies in November of 1986. The Chimes article (page 9) on this action states,  According to President DeWit, “These two companies were right on the verge of the legitimate classification in the Sullivan system. It was proper, rather than to press the point, to sell them.” 

It was the efforts of people at institutions such as Calvin College, using the tactic of divestment, which eventually dismantled the Apartheid policies of South Africa.

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1 Response to Calvin College took a stand against South African Apartheid by Divesting

  1. Pingback: The Roots of the South African Anti-Apartheid Campaign in Grand Rapids | Grand Rapids People's History Project

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