by Felicia Eaves
As South Africans and the world complete the official days of mourning and celebration of the incredible life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, I am reminded of the courageous and incredible contribution students made in the South African anti-apartheid movement. The University of California (UC), one of the largest University systems in the country, played a major role in leading the charge of demanding the divesture of stock holdings and other investments held in South Africa by universities throughout the US. In the spring of 1985, students throughout the University of California system held “Days of Action” to protest the racist apartheid system in South Africa and demand that the UC Regents divest its financial holdings from South Africa.
I was a sophomore at UC San Diego at the time and had just become active in the Black Student Union. It was a very exciting time as I remember Rev. Jesse Jackson, Angela Davis and other luminaries coming to campus to encourage and be in solidarity with us. Hundreds of off-campus police were called in to quell the protests, resulting in many students being injured and arrested. My friends and I participated in demonstrations that included the construction of shantytowns on the Revelle College Plaza and a sleep-in that took place outside Humanities/Galbraith Library, re-named “Winnie Mandela” Library. On Nelson Mandela’s birthday, July 18, 1986, the University of California Regents voted 13-9 for full divestment of the system’s $3.1 billion linked to South Africa through U.S. corporations and banks. This was a huge victory for the student anti-apartheid movement and was by far “the largest campus divestment action.”
The organizing that occurred on campuses around the country at that time was, for me and many other students, a primer in the education and mobilization of communities. Many of us continue to participate in activism in the US and around the world regarding the pervasive political, social and economic injustices and inequities we face on a global scale today. I am grateful to Nelson Mandela and all the other revolutionaries of the African National Congress, as well as the South African people for their commitment and unwavering belief that a “Free South Africa” was possible. They continue to be the models for why we must never give up – because we are winning!