Last month we posted the first part of a two part series on the roots of the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement in Grand Rapids. Here is part two, which looks at the work done that led to the City of Grand Rapids adopting a resolution on divesting from companies doing business in South Africa to an eventual divestment action.
As noted in Part 1 of this two-part article, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office in Grand Rapids was instrumental in facilitating the bulk of the Anti-Apartheid organizing in the 1970s. We recently found new documentation to further demonstrate the kind of work that the AFSC office in Grand Rapids around South Africa.
We found a copy of a flyer for an educational forum on South Africa, with AFSC liaison Bill Sutherland speaking (page 13 of source document) after returning from a fact finding trip to South Africa in 1977. The Grand Rapids Press wrote up a story (page 14 of source document) about Sutherland’s talk, where the Anti-Apartheid activist noted that much of the US Press has distorted what was happening on South Africa and other liberation movements throughout the continent.
Another archival set of archival documents shows that a Grand Rapids Task Force on South Africa(page 16 of source document) was being formed through the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism (GRACE) and that area churches were being organized to respond to the Apartheid policies of the South African government.
Indeed, there were numerous churches becoming involved in the Anti-Apartheid movement beginning in the late 1970s in Grand Rapids. We found a hand written document from the AFSC office in Grand Rapids, noting the the United Church of Christ Board of World Missions(page 25 of source document) had adopted a policy to divest from companies doing business in South Africa in 1978.
The West Michigan Reformed Church in America (RCA) was also in communication with the AFSC in the late 70s, based on a letter sent from the Grand Rapids office (page 26 of source document) and an additional document (page 27 of source document) shows that the Reformed Church in America had already been working to adopt a divest position in regards to South African Apartheid.
One of the resources that the AFSC was using with West Michigan churches, was a brief Action Guide on South Africa (pages 28 – 32 of the source document), which consisted of concrete information on major companies doing business in South Africa that the AFSC was encouraging organizations to boycott and divest from.
Unfortunately for the movement, the AFSC closed its office in West Michigan by the end of 1979, but many involved in the group locally decided to form a new organization to continue the work begun by the AFSC. The Institute for Global Education (IGE) came into being in 1980 and according to their very first newsletter, South Africa was part of their educational and organizing efforts. The IGE newsletter provides an overview of some of the organizing happening in West Michigan, where schools and churches were targeting Michigan-based companies(page 18 of source document) that were profiting from South African Apartheid, such as UpJohn and Kellogg. The 1980 IGE newsletter also included a powerful poem by South African dissent and writer Dennis Brutus. (page 19 of source document)
IGE continued working on the South African Anti-Apartheid Campaign until the City of Grand Rapids and individual organizations began adopting divestment policies that were a large part of the eventual dismantling of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. You can read in the 1983 IGE newsletter the efforts of the South African Working Group (page 24 of source document) and the ongoing educational efforts like a 1983 interview with exiled South African Maurice Ngakane (pages 20 – 23 of source document).
All of this archival information underscores the level of involvement in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the amount of organizing necessary for such a movement to be successful.