1977.11.18: End UC S. African interests (The News Record, University of Cincinnati)

The News Record [University of Cincinnati]
November 18, 1977

End UC S. African interests
Michael Letwin

The United States has not supplied South Africa with military equipment under the table for nothing. American capitalism has a fortune invested in South Africa which has to be protected from the black population, and to ensure this, South Africa’s racist regime needed the arms of the U.S. and its allies. Today, thanks to this aid, South Africa is largely self-sufficient in weapons production.

The United States is South Africa’s number one trading partner, the annual exchange coming to about $2 billion. American bank loans to South African companies, and to the government itself, amount to about $2 billion as well. And American corporate investment in South Africa in 1977 is approaching the $2 billion mark. You can now see why Carter refuses to take economic sanction against South Africa.

What’s so great about investing in South Africa? Well, mainly, the profits are fantastic. The average annual return on investment for American corporations in South Africa is 19.1%, compared to a world
average for American business of 11%.

The profit rate is high because black South African workers have no legal means to fight for wages, working conditions or better jobs. They are barred by from striking, limited by law to the lowest jobs, and countless other laws prevent any sort of legal organization. Because of these conditions, black wages are extremely low and the corporations pick up the difference in their profits.

Of course, if you ask an American capitalist about all of this, he will tell you how much he hates apartheid, and will piously express sympathy for the human rights of black South African workers. You will be told that American capitalism is the way to create change in South Africa, and that conditions in American companies operating in South Africa are good for black workers.

The figures prove otherwise. For example, General Electric of South Africa (a familiar company to us) pays unskilled while workers $186./mo. while paying its black workers in the unskilled level $73./mo. Union Carbide pays its white workers a minimum of S142./mo., while the minimum for blacks is $48./mo. (1972 figures).

In reality, the presence of American corporations bolsters the racist South African regime, and it is for this reason that the freedom fighters in South Africa call for U.S. corporations to get out. As the leadership of the Soweto uprisings, the South African Student Organization (SASO) puts it, “SASO sees foreign investments as giving stability to South Africa’s exploitative regime and committing South Africa’s trading partners to supporting this regime. For this reason, SASO rejects foreign investments.”

Or, as one older man in Soweto recently told the Washington Post (10/29/77), “What good is job without my freedom? We are all Steve Biko now. We are ready to die.”

These statements are not exceptions. Virtually every black South African involved in the struggle against the regime opposes American investments in South Africa.

American corporations have remained in South Africa despite the misery exacted from its black population because, under capitalism at least, profit is quite at home with brutal oppression.

In the case of South Africa, it is that very oppression which makes profit possible, But all sorts of big business own the corporations operating in South Africa, and UC is one of these. As of September 31, 1977, UC owned at least $10 million in companies operating in South Africa:

General Electric $34,593
Coca Cola $269,450
IBM $887,400
ITT $158,750
General Motors $368,097
Union Carbide $241,780
3-M $227,812
Milicron $140,874
Proctor and Gamble $7,917,220

The University claims that it doesn’t invest on “political grounds.” But making a good profit off of the misery of black South African workers is political — it`s the politics of capitalism.

Supporters of black liberation in South Africa aren’t in a position to join our sisters and brothers in the streets of Soweto. We are in a position, however, to aid their struggle by demanding that the United States end all forms of its military, political and economic imperialism in South Africa by getting out now. We can begin at UC.

Letwìn is a member of the International Socialist Oŕganization.

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