Conclusion: Technology and South Africa Today
This economic battle slowly turned the tide as more and more companies withdrew from South Africa. Although technology was still available in South Africa, they paid dearly for it. It became clear that Grand Apartheid was doomed as the foreign support melted away. As the generation who had invented apartheid began to die, the younger politicians put forward a more pragmatic view. Race restrictions were relaxed, the black political parties were legalized, and negotiations for power sharing began. This process culminated with the establishment of a plural democracy and all-race elections in 1994.
How have corporations faired under the new government? Have those companies who were slow to divest suffered retribution? We interviewed two South Africans who were both of the opinion that no negative repercussions have resulted from companies' support of apartheid. This may be because a welcoming investment environment is more important than attempting to punish past wrongs. It will be interesting to see if the multi-national corporations are as eager to invest now that the rigidly controlled cheap labor system is gone. If it remains politically stable, South Africa will remain the richest country in Africa and an attractive market. IBM, seen above as a staunch supporter of it's South African operations until disinvestment in 1987, returned in 1994, acquiring a 51% share of Information Services Group's parent company, Information Services Management.
The turmoil of the years of sanctions, unrest and school boycotts by black children have taken their toll. An entire generation of South Africans in their teens and twenties have been raised without education in the impoverished homelands. The main challenge of the coming decades will be for South Africa to educate and incorporate this lost generation into society before it becomes a destabilizing force. This is a direct consequence of the poor enforcement of sanctions.
The case of apartheid highlights several of the unique aspects of computer ethics as well as aspects of how the large social ethical battles are fought:
- Flexibility: Many tools developed for innocuous purposes in democratic societies could be utilized for repression with little or no customization.
- Ubiquitousness: The sanctions were ineffectual since they didn't blanket every aspect of imported technology, and many imports could be redirected for government work.
- Enabling: Computers are an enabling technology. What they enable can be well beyond what the creators of the technology envisioned.
- Individual action: In the final analysis, it was the actions of individuals that forced ethics to be considered by the international community. Even in this clear-cut case, corporations and governments were seen to be driven by economic concerns first, and ethical issues second. It was the lobbying within companies by concerned employees and stockholders, and the protests without companies by students and activists, that provided the motivation to do the right thing.
- Laws legitimate ethics: One of the reasons that concerned individuals and groups were able to effectively pressure companies was that they could point to laws on the books and show how the companies' actions were against the spirit of the law. Even though the U.S. government was not enforcing its embargo, the law still was useful because provided a foundation for individual action.
Where to go from here: