1994: Viva South Africa!

This article is from our archives as a part of our 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters. 

References to divestment as an advocacy tool appear throughout this anniversary issue, but the South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s is credited with being the first successful campaign by socially-conscious investors to help catalyze major political change—in this case, the end of apartheid.

For us, the biggest headline of last year was “Apartheid Dies!” The biggest success story for SRI unfolded, as the African National Congress called for lifting sanctions against South Africa. Apartheid is about to be buried, and the people of South Africa are on the difficult road toward democracy.

In 1982, the Calvert Social Investment Fund became the first mutual fund to avoid investing in companies doing  business in South Africa. The movement grew throughout the 1980s and added important financial clout to the struggle to end apartheid. SRI investors can take satisfaction from playing this critical role.

Today there is a need to invest in a way that promotes economic growth in South Africa. Calvert is already implementing a strategy of investing through micro-lending to support people in local communities. In partnership  with the non-profit organization Opportunity International, Calvert is supporting its program of providing Black- owned businesses in South Africa with seed capital and job skills training.

The most inspiring news of 1994 has to be South Africa’s first free elections, and Nelson Mandela’s transformation from prisoner to president. By keeping over $600 billion of private investment out of the hands of companies in South Africa, socially responsible investors found the key to assist those fighting to free a nation from oppressive apartheid policies.

Along the way, statistics were compiled which compared the performance of unscreened investments to South Africa-free investments. Most notable of these efforts is the Domini 400 Social Index, which outperformed the S&P 500 market index every year from 1986 to 1992, showing that considering social issues does not necessarily hurt financial performance. With many other repressive regimes still inflicting death and persecution (such as Haiti and Burma), we should be looking for ways to continue using this peaceful, potent weapon as a means to leverage human rights.

April Freedom Day celebrations in Kwa-Thema Township, near Johannesburg, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the end of apartheid. AP Photo/Denis Farrell

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Hal Brill

Hal Brill

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