TransAfrica seeks black-white harmony
Boston — Blacks have a peculiar opportunity to influence American foreign policy through TransAfrica, says Randall Robinson, director of the only American black agency seeking better relations between the United States and the black nations of Africa and the Caribbean. ``The nation's corporations are justifying the policies of TransAfrica,'' says Mr. Robinson. ``Citicorp, the nation's largest banking institution, has announced its intentions to pull out of South Africa. It joins a long list of American firms withdrawing from a nation that practices apartheid, a blunt denial of rights to people because of the color of their skins.
``Our first 10 years have not been in vain. We shall continue our campaign for the end of apartheid in South Africa as our prime mission.''
TransAfrica, Robinson says, plans to establish an endowment fund that will support both an expanding program and a larger staff.
``We have set a two-year goal to purchase or build a national office.'' he explains. ``We have a five-year plan to increase our staff in order to have a program that reaches not only the federal government but also the United Nations and other international organizations.''
TransAfrica's most dramatic accomplishment resulted from a 12-month vigil in 1984 and '85 in front of the South African Embassy in Washington.
The daily protest marches, which resulted in daily arrests, ended when Congress overrode President Reagan's veto of a bill calling for sanctions against South Africa.
``Yes, we've made gains in South Africa, but we have a long way to go,'' says Robinson. ``We're happy that corporations are withdrawing from South Africa now that Rev. [Leon] Sullivan [author of the Sullivan Principles for conducting business in South Africa] has called for divestment of interests in South Africa by American firms. But we have lots more to do.''
In discussing the future of TransAfrica, Robinson says, ``Our goal is to become a permanent institution. We've crossed the hurdle of legitimacy. We have strong relations with Capitol Hill. We are gaining influence in the UN.''
Robinson also plans these elements for TransAfrica's future: a quarterly journal to serve as a platform for ideas and policies on Africa and the Caribbean; bimonthly issues briefs to be distributed to schools and universities and provide an educational program for students; research on Africa and the Caribbean to involve scholars and interns.
``We hope to begin the intern program within the next two years,'' he says. ``Our studies will be made available to others interested in third-world issues.''
TransAfrica awarded its first scholarship earlier this month. Its goal is to increase the number of awards and to offer fellowships for advanced study.
Financing its ambitious plans will be TransAfrica's next big challenge, Robinson says. The organization is seeking grants from foundations and other donors, he adds.
``We have never collected a cent from any foreign nation,'' he says. ``We are a black American lobby. We are wholly supported by American funds.''
But the group consults with diplomats and leaders from African and the Caribbean, he adds.
TransAfrica, organized 10 years ago, has 12 chapters and 15,000 members, mostly in large US cities including Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Houston, San Diego and New York.
Robinson says he expects more growth when TransAfrica moves into its own quarters.