Home>Governor>In protest of apartheid, N.J. led nation as first state to divest of investments in companies deal with South Africa

New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, left, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Newark on January 12, 1986. (Photo: Center for the American Governor, Eagleton Institute of Politics/Rutgers University).

In protest of apartheid, N.J. led nation as first state to divest of investments in companies deal with South Africa

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who died today at 90, visited Newark in 1986 after state voted to divest pension funds

By David Wildstein, December 26 2021 2:48 pm

New Jersey became the first state to divest their state pension fund of any investments with firms doing business in South Africa in a bid to force the end of apartheid.

That forced New Jersey to sell off about $2 billion in investments and instructed state government to boycott the purchase of products manufactured in South Africa.   The policy affected several New Jersey companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers and Squibb.

The sponsor of the bill was Assemblyman Willie B. Brown (D-Newark), a South Ward Democrat.  It had the support of multiple groups, including the Communications Workers of America, but was opposed by the New Jersey Education Association as well as the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Business & Industry Association.

The anti-apartheid bill passed in the State Assembly by a vote of 45-17, and in the Senate, 26-14.

Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who signed the bill on August 27, 1985, ten week before he won re-election to a second term with 70% of the vote.  He called “status quo in South Africa was unacceptable.”

“We will not countenance the brutality that is apartheid by nourishing it with our investments,” Kean said at the bill signing, where a large crowd of Black clergymen frequently interrupted his speech with applause.

The legislation did not tie the hands of some major universities, including Princeton and Rutgers, which resisted divesting their investments in South Africa and led to student protests.

When Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 that imposed sanctions on South Africa, all sixteen members of the New Jersey delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to support of the measure.  After President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill, the full New Jersey delegation, including six Republicans, voted to override the veto.  Just one of the sixteen, Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), continues to serve in the House.

In a floor speech, Brown pointed out that Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of Cape Town and the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was not eligible to vote in South Africa because he was Black.

Accompanied by Kean, Brown, U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino (D-Newark), Tutu visited St. Joseph’s Plaza Newark on January 12, 1986.

Tutu died on December 26.  He was 90.

Kean Speech Statement Divestitutre South Africa August 1985
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