Representative Ron Gamble’s speech on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives against legislation to divest Pennsylvania pension funds from South Africa:
I oppose this legislation wholeheartedly because state government has no business dealing with foreign policy. However, if we are going to initiate a foreign policy based on compassion for our fellow man, let’s do it fairly and pass my amendment to do the same in every country whose practices are morally reprehensible to us. And that is what this amendment does. I believe legislation has been introduced in this House to address divestiture of companies doing business in Ireland. But I ask you, if we pass the bills before us today, how can we not pass this amendment to do the same in the Soviet Union, Poland, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Albania, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, or Angola, all countries where violations of human rights are everyday occurrences?
First off, we should not be dealing with moral issues thousands of miles away with Pennsylvania pension dollars, at the expense of Pennsylvanians, but rather through the Resolution process—memorializing Congress as we have in the past. South Africa is not an isolated case, nor is it the most inhumane country in the world.
The Washington Post reported in August of 1985 that the Vietnamese torture of Cambodians includes beatings, electrical shocks, and lye powder being thrown in victims’ faces. The Wall Street Journal in April of 1985 also described inhumane torture. The New York Times in December of 1984 reported of the legalized arrest and detention policies in Poland, which often lead to the death of the detainees. The same paper reported in December of 1984 of the saturation bombings in Afghanistan in which many thousand innocent civilians have been killed and from which millions have fled. They also reported the habitual discrimination against several religious groups in Albania, a self-declared atheist state.
Which brings me to my constant concern: Why is it that we have singled out South Africa? Currently, all the other black ruled countries of Africa are experiencing political, economic, and social unrest far more debilitating than anything that’s occurring in South Africa. Many more people are killed in these countries in one day than in South Africa in a year. And God knows of the seven million that have starved to death in Ethiopia alone, not to mention the others who have starved through corrupt and inept governments.
—In Uganda, soldiers shoot civilians with Soviet-made weapons, according to a Washington Post article entitled “Political Violence Has Left Scars on Ugandan Children.” These kids have seen their mothers raped, their fathers killed, their houses burned, and when orphaned, they take up arms and fight.
—In Kenya and Nigeria, shantytowns are being demolished, and people are being forced to relocate into the bush.
—In Zimbabwe, there has been a sharp rise in torture of political prisoners. Amnesty International reports that in the city of Bulawayo alone, more than 350 political detainees are being held without trial.
—In Mozambique 200,000 to 300,000 people are being held behind barbed wire.
—According to the Washington Post in May of 1985 and the New York Times in September of 1986, in Zaire, in some portions of this one-party country, the armed forces routinely whip detainees with barbed wire, halfstarve the prisoners, and afflict them with electric shocks. In early 1986, some leaders of the only other political party were shot and other leaders were sent into exile.
—In Angola, a one-party Marxist nation under strong Soviet influence, complete with Cuban troops, where the very worst atrocities occur, several huge American companies thrive. Here is a perfect example of a country whose economy could be hurt by divestiture.
—In many other black-ruled countries in Africa, it is common to require passbooks to go from one section of the country to another, a practice that appalls us when it happens in South Africa.
—In many of these countries, experts now predict a new wave of mass starvation because the people cannot feed themselves.
—In many of the now black-ruled countries of Africa, since the 1950’s (when many broke away from the colonial system), four million people have been killed. This number edges closer daily to the number killed in the great Holocaust.
I now ask you—Do we have a case of misplaced compassion? Why are these countries, which have seen bloodbaths, famine, and a lack of voting rights, not on the same or a higher crisis level than South Africa? Is it because South Africa has become the “issue of the day”? It makes headlines because it is, quite simply, a black and white issue. Any move by the South African government is termed racist. The word “racism” has become a convenient term used freely to intimidate whites in this country. Fear of being called a racist is a powerful master. Politicians who normally pound podiums tremble at the thought. Those who expound freedom of speech shrink from practicing it when it comes to black and white issues. Yes, there is an inherent fear among white politicians of being called a racist. The prime sponsor of these bills was quoted in the Patriot News: “I’ve been dealing with bills on South Africa for three terms, and each year the issue is escalating more and more. I’m going to be optimistic. I hope the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not a racist state.” Just recently, I’ve heard the term “bigot” kicked around on this House floor. Do you see what I mean? That is why the black agendas and liberal agendas have been so successful across this country. Don’t be hornswoggled. Don’t let it happen here today. It would be hypocritical for us to address the problems of South Africa and not the problems of the other countries in Africa, Asia, or Europe simply because South Africa’s problems are black and white rather than black and black, and Vietnam and Cambodia’s are yellow and yellow, and the Soviet Union’s, Poland’s, and Afghanistan’s are white and white. I find the practices of all these countries repugnant. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is not the body to address these foreign policy problems, but since we have taken this upon ourselves, let’s address them all—let’s not be hypocritical—let’s not be intimidated—let’s be fair—let’s be compassionate to all the suppressed people of this world. To the supporters of the South African package, let’s erase any doubt that this is a racist issue. Let’s make it a compassionate issue—let’s pass this amendment.