County Board May Face Suit on Divestiture

Times Staff Writer

The head of a local committee opposing apartheid in South Africa said he would meet with representatives of county employee groups this weekend in an effort to mount a class-action lawsuit against the San Diego County Employees Retirement Board.

Greg Akili, of the Campaign Against Apartheid, said Friday he hoped to legally challenge the retirement board's refusal this week to begin divestment of the $81 million in the county's portfolio invested in companies operating in South Africa. The board is empowered to manage the $440 million fund to pay for pensions and other benefits for the county's 16,600 present and retired employees.

Its unanimous vote came despite recommendations for the divestiture by the Board of Supervisors and the San Diego County Employees Assn. Akili branded the vote as "racist, imprudent and improper."

The resolution unanimously approved Thursday by the retirement board condemned the apartheid policy of the white minority governing South Africa, but said it legally could make investments based solely on their "security, liquidity, diversification, value and yield."

Akili said the call for divestment was "not intended to endanger or jeopardize the retirement fund," but to send a message that was "as symbolic as it was concrete. This action has been commonplace among other local governments."

The cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley have voted to begin removing their financial support for firms doing business in South Africa.

"For the board to do nothing--to not even agree that there would be no future investments in companies supporting the South African government--has to be regarded as an act of racism," Akili said.

Akili did not specify which employee groups would be asked to participate in a class-action suit but said the litigation would have to be supported by from 100 to 150 present or retired county workers.

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