L.A. Council Broadens Policy on Divestiture

Times Staff Writer

Responding to personal pleas from South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and Mayor Tom Bradley, the City Council unanimously broadened Los Angeles’ anti-apartheid policy on Wednesday by voting to limit its purchases from firms doing business in the strife-torn nation.

Upon taking effect in about one month, the measure will apply to only a portion of the contracts awarded by the city each year. Nevertheless, it was lauded as a moral victory by council members, Bradley and Tutu, who spoke to the council by telephone from Johannesburg.

Tutu, an international symbol of opposition to the Pretoria government’s racial separation policies, said economic pressures from abroad represent the “last chance . . . to urge the South African government to the bargaining table.”

“What Los Angeles does . . . will be sending ripples throughout the world,” Tutu said. “What you do will give new heart to the victims of apartheid and will shatter the morale of the perpetrators of one of the most vicious systems of the world.”


Purchases Banned

Where applicable, the ordinance will ban the purchase of materials produced, assembled or mined in South Africa and preclude any city involvement with either the South African government or companies doing business in South Africa.

Company officials will be required to file a report with the city attesting to their lack of ties to South Africa. A company official found to be lying about such ties could be sentenced to up to four years in prison, and the city could refuse to pay for the goods and services, the ordinance says.

Overall, City Controller Rick Tuttle said, more than $107 million in contracts would have been covered by the ordinance had it been in effect last year. The figure represents 13% of the contracts awarded by the city.


The bulk of the city’s contracts are exempt from the anti-apartheid policy, because the City Charter requires that they be awarded by competitive bidding. The city is required to accept the lowest responsible bid, officials said. Also exempt are already approved contracts and so-called “sole-source” contracts, where only one firm is qualified to provide goods or services.

Councilman Howard Finn, in a motion unanimously approved, asked city officials to take steps to revise the City Charter so that more of the city’s contracts would be covered by the anti-apartheid policy.

Finn and fellow Councilman Hal Bernson also called on the city to extend its divestiture policy to other nations that violate their citizens’ human rights.

“Certainly the Soviet Union qualifies for these kind of economic sanctions as well,” Bernson said.

The action Wednesday came after nearly a year of legal tuning and marked the council’s third major anti-apartheid vote.

Last August, a divestiture plan pushed through the council by Bradley applied restrictions to city involvement with banks doing business in South Africa. Managers of city pension funds were also officially urged to withdraw investments in firms with ties to the Pretoria government.

Bradley, speaking before the council Wednesday, called the contract measure a “final step” in the city’s South African divestiture process. He said he was confident that economic sanctions would have a pronounced effect on Pretoria and said they sent a message to U.S. firms as well:

“If you want to do business with this city,” he said, “you cannot at the same time be in bed with the South African government and its policies.”


Praise Stance

Council members, rising to praise their stance, called the limited impact of the latest measure regrettable, but they renewed vows to press the South African government for change.

“We’re not going to break the bank with this,” Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said. “We’re not going to individually make an economic impact of major proportions, but I think we will make a moral statement that is more important than the value of the amount of the dollars.”

Councilman Robert Farrell, who has been lobbying his counterparts for years on the issue of South African sanctions, beamed as the vote was tallied.

“This is one where all of us are just doing ourselves and our nation and our city proud,” he said.

Farrell and Yaroslavsky arranged the timely telephone call to Tutu on what Farrell called an “auspicious” day for the city’s governing body.

At one point in the call, Tutu drew laughs from the audience when--apparently unaware that his words were being broadcast over a speaker phone--he sought to bring the conversation to a close. It was, he explained, interrupting a party marking his wedding anniversary.

“I would like to get back to the party,” he said.