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Nelson Mandela, Apartheid, and SRI: A Brief History Lesson
By Meaghan Scott

Earlier this month, the world lost a powerful and inspirational leader; Nelson Mandela. We mourn his passing while celebrating the important role he played in changing our world for the better. We also applaud the way investing is now viewed as a process for applying acupressure to improve the health and well-being of society at large, as a result of the anti-Apartheid movement.

In 1962, a violent young Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. During his 27 years in a jail cell, he became a peacemaker and the “last great liberator of the 20th century” (President Barack Obama). Mandela chose passive resistance over violence. He was able to set grievances and anger aside and work with former enemies to transform South Africa into a true democracy—where the majority blacks have all the rights of citizenship.

The history is important. In 1964, the International Conference for Economic Sanctions Against South Africa which spawned the idea or organizing sanctions to force reform in South Africa. When key governments around the world did not embrace sanctions, Reverend Leon Sullivan established the Sullivan Principles in 1977.

The Sullivan Principles aimed to establish corporate responsibility and end Apartheid. His intentions were very clear:

“Starting with the work place, I tightened the screws step by step and raised the bar step by step. Eventually I got to the point where I said that companies must practice corporate civil disobedience… I threatened South Africa and said in two years Mandela must be freed, apartheid must end, and blacks must vote, or else I’ll bring every American company I can out of South Africa.”

Rev. Sullivan’s efforts catalyzed a rapid withdrawal of foreign investment capital from South Africa. Between 1985 and 1988, the country had a net economic decrease of R23.9 billion.

The anti-apartheid movement proved that divestment can work. After substantial economic hardship throughout the 1980’s, the South African government lifted Apartheid and freed Nelson Mandela. This revolutionary action did not come from war or violence; rather, from the idea that there is more power in money that its nominal value.

Responsible investors in the United States played a huge role in dismantling the oppressive system of Apartheid, as American companies, under pressure from investors, pulled out of the country, and the South African government felt the pinch. It proved the concept that investors can consciously direct capital in impactful ways—and play an important role in creating a better future.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1993 and was elected president of a “new” South Africa in 1994. He was named the Harvard Business School Statesman of the Year Award in 1995 and was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize in 2001.

As Bob Massie* said so eloquently in a December 5, 2013 blog, Nelson Mandela’s “words and actions will offer permanent guidance for every leader and every people, especially Americans. For since we, ourselves, are a nation formed by revolutionaries who were vilified for their vision and since we have battled to this day for true racial justice, we should never forget that those who today are calling for difficult changes may tomorrow be honored for their wisdom and truth.”


* Bob Massie authored “Loosing the Bonds: The United States and South Africa in the Apartheid Years” (Doubleday, 1998).


Posted: December 16, 2013