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Free South Africa Fund's shutdown symbolizes end of an era
STANFORD -- The check for $7,234 wasn't especially large, compared to some that Stanford receives. But when Jon Reider turned it over to the university's Office of Development earlier this year, it symbolized the end of an era.
The money came from an "alternative endowment" established in May 1986 by several students -- including graduating Rhodes scholars William Handley, Michael McFaul and Susan Rice -- who were active in the campus struggle against South African apartheid.
The founders urged graduating seniors and others to donate to the Free South Africa Fund in lieu of a regular donation to Stanford, as a sign of protest against the university's reluctance to completely divest its holdings of stock in companies doing business in South Africa.
"The fund promised to hold the donations in trust for Stanford until Stanford divested completely from South African investments or the end of apartheid came to South Africa," said Reider, associate director of undergraduate admissions and president of the fund's board since 1992.
"If, after 10 years, neither of these events had occurred, the assets of the fund were to be donated to the support of organizations assisting black South African education. Given the political realities of both Stanford and South Africa in the mid- 1980s, the most likely outcome in the view of the founders was the third option."
Over the ensuing decade, as required by law for non- profit organizations, the fund made occasional donations to groups assisting black South African education, and provided some emergency financial support to several black South African undergraduates at Stanford.
Then, in 1994, the miracle happened, and Nelson Mandela became president of a multi-racial democratic government in South Africa.
The fund's board agreed that the best use of the remaining money would be to deposit it in the Amy Biehl Fund at Stanford, which was established two years ago in memory of the Stanford graduate and Fulbright scholar who was murdered while doing research and volunteer work among black South Africans. The fund provides research grants for Stanford students who wish to work in South Africa on scholarly projects.
"The board felt that the Amy Biehl Fund was the most suitable vehicle for fulfilling the wishes of the original donors in continuing to assist in the development of a free and multi-racial South Africa through Stanford's educational mission," Reider said.
"Obviously, much work remains to be done in South Africa. But we are very glad that the controversy over divestment is behind us, and that Stanford can now take a more active role, however limited, in promoting peaceful change and the growth of knowledge."
William Masters, an assistant professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University who helped to establish the fund with the Rhodes scholars while he was a graduate student at Stanford, said he, too, was pleased at the outcome.
"I remember when people were building shanties in White Plaza . . . the sit-ins, the arrests," recalled Masters, Ph.D. '91, who now teaches and does research on African economic development.
"There was a lot of hostility then, a lot of students who characterized the whole university as having bloody hands on this issue. I never went that far myself -- I saw the university as a friendly place, but one that would have been friendlier had its whole endowment been South Africa-free. It's too bad Stanford didn't send a clear message through its policy."
Still, he said, "there were lots of people who did wonderful things at Stanford [to fight apartheid], and Amy Biehl was the product of a whole community of concerned people. It's very fitting now that this money can be turned over to the Biehl fund, so that other students can follow the example of what she was doing."
Reider said he was pleased that the body of the fund had remained intact over the years, and that his group "could make a substantial contribution to a worthy cause."
He particularly noted the loyalty and support of Ron Rebholz, professor of English and the previous board president; James Gibbs, professor of anthropology; and Julie Taylor, '88, associate director of admissions.
"They had all been members of the board since its early days," he said, "and had helped maintain continuity of purpose as the political situation in South Africa took its unexpected turn."
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