Divestiture Would Harm Blacks, Zulu Chief Warns
The chief of South Africa’s Zulu nation warned the California Legislature on Monday that withdrawal of investments from American companies that do business in his country would undermine the struggle of majority blacks for self-determination.
Mangosuthu G. Buthelezi, ancestral chief of the estimated 5 million Zulu people, spoke to a joint meeting of the Assembly and Senate. He received a warm welcome.
Buthelezi’s visit, sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce, occurred as a legislative conference committee pressed toward adoption of a $35-billion-plus state budget but remained deadlocked over whether California should penalize American companies with business links in South Africa.
The budget committee, unable to reach agreement on what, if anything, it should do about divestiture, recessed until today when it was expected to tackle the issue again. Divestiture was virtually the only issue remaining unresolved.
Some Democrats want various state employee, teacher and University of California retirement funds to divest themselves of stock in companies that transact business in South Africa as a means of protesting that country’s policy of racial apartheid. Republicans generally oppose such a move.
“If you remove your investments, you are pulling the rug from under our feet,” Buthelezi told the lawmakers, insisting he was no “flunky” for the white minority-controlled South Africa government.
“Those who call for disinvestment do so in direct opposition to black sentiment in South Africa,” he said in his 40-minute talk.
Blacks in his country rely on foreign investment to improve their economic status, he said, adding that “they either work for wages or die” and “every job that is created keeps someone from dying.”
Buthelezi said he and other black Africans welcomed the “rising tide of opinion” in the United States and elsewhere against apartheid, but he took some lawmakers by surprise when he asserted that American blacks and “left liberals” should stay out of the fray in his country.
American blacks do not have a right “to tell us what is good for us . . . no matter how good their motives are,” he said. He also asserted that American liberals and Democrats had seized on the matter of divestiture as a means of rallying their forces behind a politically unifying issue.
Buthelezi was the second black South African leader to address the Legislature within a month. In May, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, appealed to the lawmakers to use diplomatic, political and economic measures to pressure the Pretoria government to end apartheid.
One of the Legislature’s chief advocates of divestment, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), walked out after Buthelezi began to speak and later issued a statement advising her colleagues, “Do not be duped by Buthelezi’s statements opposing divestment; as an employee of the South African government, he could hardly say other.”
(Buthelezi, South Africa’s most prominent rural black leader, has long been at odds with urban black leaders, who consider him to be a collaborator with the white government because he accepts assistance from it.
(But Buthelezi, unlike some other tribal chiefs, has refused to allow Zululand to become an “independent” tribal state within South Africa. Instead, he has continued to demand a unified South Africa, with political and social equality for all.)
The California Chamber of Commerce, which a spokeswoman said helped pay Buthelezi’s expenses in California, issued a statement declaring that “no responsible group would condone the state earning money from an immoral activity.
“However, American firms are doing what’s right and their departure would hurt, not help, blacks escape their plight. Divestment would be an enormous cost to our public pensions and would inadvertently harm the oppressed people we all want to help.”