One of the more admirable aims of shareholder activism is socially responsible investing, when investors attempt to leverage rights as shareholders of a publicly-traded corporation to affect social change.
This includes discouraging investments overseas in area of the world rife with corruption and human rights violations. Most portfolio managers practice asset allocation strategies. As a result, some of our monies are commonly invested in overseas companies and funds. We are a nexus of global interconnecting economies which work in tandem with one another.
Yet if you sense outrage, do not act just from reading headlines. Responsible activism is born from knowledge. Before you act and call for change, first research the events and the underlying situation.
We have to embrace the concept of oppression to feel the outrage to resist and overcome. An awareness of oppression is critically important because oppression involves people, and people are the lifeblood of an economy. Part of what led to the failure of Apartheid in South Africa was world opinion which led to increasingly severe economic sanctions which hampered growth.
Today oppression is not as obvious as it was years ago, but nonetheless virulent and despicable. At this point in world economic history, it may be difficult to fathom brutal trade wars, isolationist policies, or racism-based political systems of oppression.
THE GHOSTS OF OPPRESSION
Oppression is socially sanctioned, systemic maltreatment, segregation, and exploitation of a category or group of people by other people.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of visiting South Africa, joined by my two sons. It was on this trip that I was reminded of just such an ugly episode of oppression, the profound human tragedy of Apartheid.
Throughout our journey, the ghosts of Apartheid were felt, as we toured Cape Town, the wine country, Thornybush Reserve, and Johannesburg.
South Africa is a rich, complicated, interesting, and most beautiful country. It has abundant natural resources, ample mineral deposits (gold, diamonds platinum), and exceptionally fertile farmland. It is quite easy to see why this land had been so contested for so long.
South Africa was colonized by the Dutch and English in the early 1600s. The Dutch East India Company created a service station in Cape Town near the Cape of Good Hope where they could maintain their shipping trade to and from Indonesia, and also engage in the growing slave trade. Holland was an ascending world power.
Eventually, however, British domination of the Dutch colony’s descendants (known as Boers or Arikaners) led the Boers to create their own new colonies known as Transvaal and Orange Free State.
In the 1940s, the Afikaner National Party gained the majority. The Allies and Russia defeated the Axis powers in 1945 during World War II. Three years later, the government of South Africa enacted very sophisticated, detailed apartheid laws shortly after the defeat of the fascist, racist polices perpetrated by Germany and Japan. Interestingly, the South African army fought on the side of the Allies in World War II.
In 1948, the party formally created Apartheid in order to solidify control of the economic and social systems of the entire country; and the majority black population.
The die of oppression had been cast.
Racial discrimination was officially institutionalized in South Africa, and impacted every aspect of social life, marriage, employment, education, freedom of movement, and homeland residency.
Think about that for a moment. All political rights were based on, and restricted, to the prescribed homeland of the African population who were, in effect, deprived of South African citizenship and denationalized. Blacks were required to carry “pass books.”
Over time, through 1994, more than 120 laws were passed by the white controlled South African Parliament which limited, controlled, and dictated life for blacks.
Appallingly, at the initiation of apartheid in 1948, blacks outnumbered whites by nearly 5 to 1 (20 million to 4.5 million). Whites owned 87% of the land, and blacks owned 13%. Blacks had one physician available per 44,000 people whereas whites had one physician available per 400 people.
The average annual expenditure for education per black student was the equivalent of $45 whereas for a white student it was nearly $700 dollars.
Freedom, equity, opportunity, political rights, and citizenship had been revamped and taken away from nearly 20 million people by the Afrikaner-dominated National Party.
TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT
For more than two generations, South Africa struggled and endured violence, humiliation, a declining economy and standard of living, pain and death, world trade embargos, a decline of human spirit, emotional depression, and moral compromise.
The African National Congress worked fearlessly and persistently to formulate political platforms, and create the groundwork for freedom. Nelson Mandela, the party’s leader, spent 27 years in prison. He was affectionately known as “Madiba” which means reconciler, or the filler of ditches.
Mandela is an extraordinary man. He was released unconditionally by then President F.W. de Klerk in 1990. In the first open election in the history of South Africa, Mandela was elected President in 1994 in a free multi-racial forum. He worked closely with President F.W. de Klerk to formulate policy and prevent a civil, race war of disproportionate horror which would have torn the country even further apart perhaps to a point beyond redemption. Both men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
LEARNING THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
As I traveled through South Africa, I was reminded that Apartheid did not just end. The regime did not have a moment of enlightenment and decide to grant equality to the majority of its population.
It took decades of intense pressure. Clearly, part of what led to the failure of Apartheid in South Africa was world opinion, and increasingly severe economic sanctions that hampered growth. But it took far too long.
Investors in the companies that did business in South Africa all those years, that funneled investments into this corrupt regime, share some of the responsibility.
As it was then, so it is now. Feigned ignorance does not absolve the investor or the company. As shareholders, you have the right to know how the company is investing its assets. And if it is in an area of the world where there are rampant human rights violations that thirst for knowledge must grow.
Oppression is the exercise of authority and power in cruel, unjust, and/or burdensome ways. But it is not only the oppressors who are guilty of the systemic atrocities, but the governments and corporations that are complicit by turning too many blind eyes.
The Shareholder Activist provides the tools, tactics, techniques, and forums for the exercise and projection of our inalienable rights as shareholders and investors in America, and in the world beyond.
There is strength in numbers.
There is resolve in aspiring toward justice.
You have a voice.
To contact Christopher Bayer directly, please email Christopher.Bayer@TheShareholderActivist.com.