This article analyzes 48 position papers U.S. corporations distributed in 1986 to define and defend their presence in South Africa under aparthid. As public statements about one of the most difficult business and ethical issues ever faced by U.S. corporations, these papers constitute a special moment in the history of business writing. Unique in its economic, political, and ethical complexity, this situation required corporations to depart from traditional ways of making decisions and traditional ways of writing about those decisions. These corporations, all but one signatories to the Sullivan Principles, evolved a unique structure that allowed them to enter the debate on divestiture, yet minimize their rhetorical exposure. The limitations inherent in that new pattern became evident, however, in the mid-1980s as the debate became more intense and frustrating for executives and their corporations. The essay also examines the pivotal role of Leon Sullivan, the African American minister who organized these corpo rations in their anti apartheid efforts, monitored their efforts, pushed them to do more, served as their rhetorical point man in opposition to divestiture, and helped define them as a discourse community.
Keywords: Corporate Policy, Ethics, History of Business Communication, South African Business Communication
One of the most complex and difficult ethical issues faced by many U.S. corporations in the 1980s was whether to continue operations in South Africa, a decision made even more complex and political by pressure from individuals and organizations who believed that the mere presence of U.S. corporations in South Africa supported that country's government and its unjust apartheid policies.  Debate on the issue became a high-profile, highly-emotional public issue. In response to these pressures, many of the companies who conducted business in South Africa produced position papers to describe their operations and their reasons for maintaining operations there. This paper analyzes 48 of these position papers written and distributed by U.S. corporations shortly before or during 1986.
The pressures on U.S. corporations doing business in South Africa were at their height in 1986. As resistance to apartheid and violence in South Africa increased, the South African government responded by declaring a state of emergency, which only served to escalate the tension and violence. In the United States, the debate over whether U.S.-based multinational corporations should divest themselves of their South African holdings intensified. Influential, well-meaning people such as religious leaders, university presidents, and politicians disagreed over what was the most moral and effective means of exerting pressure on the South African government to end its apartheid policies. Should U.S. corporations be asked or even forced to pull out of South Africa thus isolating the government by denying it essential goods and services? Or should corporations continue to operate in South Africa and work against apartheid by hiring black African employees, training them to become technicians and managers, providing th em with better housing and educational opportunities--in short, undercutting apartheid by creating growing enclaves of economic and personal equality within that repressive system? Should the United States government take a more active role in its opposition to apartheid by imposing economic and political sanctions? The debate raged in meetings of corporate boards, university trustees, church leaders, state legislatures, and congressional committees; and it spilled into the streets with demonstrations in Washington, on Wall Street, and on college and university campuses. 
Many of those U.S. corporations who chose to stay in South Africa were signatories to the "Statement of Principles of U.S. Firms with Affiliates in the Republic of South Africa" and the organization created to monitor the progress of these corporations in achieving the goals inherent in those principles. Known as the "Sullivan Principles" because of the work of Leon Sullivan, the African-American minister and civil-rights leader who created and who was for more ten years the driving force behind this organization, these principles called for companies doing business in South Africa to provide
1. Non-segregration of the races in all eating, comfort, and work facilities
2. Equal and fair employment practices for all employees
3. Equal pay for all employees doing equal or comparable work for the same period of time
4. Initiation and development of training programs that will prepare blacks, coloreds, and Asians in substantial numbers for supervisory, administrative, clerical, and technical jobs
5. More blacks, coloreds, and Asians in management and supervisory positions
6. Improvements in the quality of employees' lives outside the work environment in such areas as housing, transportation, schooling, recreation, and health facilities.
Working toward these goals in South Africa became one of the strongest arguments U.S. corporations could present in response to the strong economic and moral pressures on them to divest. However, in 1987 (only a year after the documents in my study were collected), the Reverend Sullivan finally decided that his efforts and the efforts of the Sullivan Signatory Companies had failed and that U.S. firms should divest themselves of their economic interests in South Africa. In late 1986 and early 1987, before Sullivan abandoned the policy that bore his name, a number of corporations had already decided to divest; others followed his lead and terminated or suspended their operations.
When political change in South Africa finally came, it was dramatic. In 1986 few would have thought that Nelson Mandela (who was freed in 1990 after being in prison since 1962 for anti-apartheid activity) and F. W. de Klerk would share the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 or that in 1994 the citizens of South Africa--all its citizens, black, Asian, colored, and white--would vote together in an election that would place Mandela, a native black South African, in the Presidency.
Whether and how the presence and influence of U.S. corporations helped move South Africa more quickly and surely toward equality and democracy for all its peoples is for political scientists and historians to determine. I think U.S. companies did help greatly--ironically both by their being there and by their leaving. My interest in the 1986 position papers focuses on them as important documents in the history of business writing. These position papers constitute a written record of one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of U.S. business. They provide a special opportunity to study the response of more than 40 different companies to the same set of incredibly complex, intense, and fluid stimuli at about the same time. As I will try to demonstrate, taken together they reveal both unity and diversity. More than half these papers follow the same basic organizational and stylistic pattern. The other documents vary greatly in organization, format, and style. They all, however, demonstrate the pressures exerted on corporations, individuals, and language as corporate officials tried to deal with the South African issue. In and behind these documents are many conflicting interests and concerns: the corporations' insistence on free enterprise and the right to do business in South Africa; the intense and diverse political pressures on corporations from within the United States; the even more intense political and racial conflicts within South Africa.
The paper that follows is organized into four major sections. In the first section, I will briefly provide historical background first on South African apartheid policies and the resistance to it and secondly on the debate in the United States over what our policy should be with special emphasis on the efforts of Leon Sullivan and U.S. multinational corporations to use their presence in South Africa as a positive force for change. In the second section, I will describe the procedure I followed to collect these papers, the variety within the documents I received, the two key arguments they present, and the structural pattern that characterized half the documents I received. My discussion of the reports is organized in terms of a visual heuristic that allows for the systematic presentation and analysis of the similarities and differences in these documents. The third section is an mitial response to these documents in which I discuss some of the shifting rhetorical realities (especially the frustrated commitme nts of these writers) that may have operated to create two distinct groups of reports. Finally, I will briefly summarize a 1998 telephone interview with the Rev. Leon Sullivan in which he described how these documents emerged from the purpose embraced by the Sullivan signatory companies in and after 1977. Since all but a few of the companies that provided position papers were Sullivan Signatory companies and mention that organization and its goals, his comments provide valuable information about the common patterns in the documents and their origins. His account calls attention to a strong, coherent social purpose in these documents and suggests that in his mind the statements did more than just present to outsiders the goals of a discourse community; they also served to strengthen the commitment of those who read and wrote in that community.
Some Historical Background
Since its colonization began in the mid-seventeenth century, the history of South Africa has been a story of conflict: conflict between the original Dutch colonizers (later called Afrikaners) and the British who finally won control at the end of the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902); conflict between these European settlers and the native peoples they displaced and oppressed; and, especially in the 1980s and early 1990s, conflict between black groups who tragically turned on one another in their frustrating fight against apartheid.
The contention between Afrikaners and British can be seen as late as 1939 in the narrow parliamentary vote for South Africa to enter World War II on the side of Great Britain and not, as many Afrikaners would have preferred, on the side of Nazi Germany. In 1948, however, the National Party, composed largely of Afrikaners, won a close election and stayed in power until the African National Congress (ANC) won the election of 1994 and Nelson Mandela became president. Soon after it gained power the National Party immediately began to put in place repressive laws that officially established apartheid though in reality its policies had been practiced for years. This action understandably produced a response from the ANC, which began in 1949 an overt policy of active, but nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.
Throughout the 1950s the government dealt with protests by arresting and incarcerating thousands. However, on March 21, 1960, the violence inherent in South Africa's system erupted in Sharpeville and became obvious to the world when police fired on an unarmed crowd of blacks protesting pass laws, killing more than 70 people. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, tensions rose and demonstrations occurred across the country. The government declared a state of emergency and arrested thousands of protesters. Finally, in 1961, the same year that South Africa was pressured out of the British Commonwealth for its racial policies, the ANC, seeing no other way to gain recognition and reform, abandoned its policy of nonviolence. Again the government of South Africa responded with heavy-handed predictability: In 1964 eight ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life in prison. Throughout the 1960s security laws were strengthened enabling the government to suppress opposition to apartheid, but in the mid-1970s a new wave of protest and violence again brought South Africa's unjust system to the world's attention. In 1976 students in Soweto protested a new curriculum that placed native African language culture in a clearly secondary position. The government responded to what was initially a peaceful demonstration with deadly force in Soweto and in other places where sympathetic demonstrations erupted. In that year alone, more than a thousand blacks were killed by police and the military. Then in 1977 Steve Biko, a well-known, highly respected black leader and writer, was beaten and killed while in police custody. These events brought official condemnations from around the world; the criticism, however, had little or no effect on the government. The oppressive policies of apartheid continued and events moved toward another crisis in the mid 1980s. In 1985 unrest and violence in certain townships led the government to declare a state of emergency in those areas. By early 1986 the state of emergency had been extended to the whole country. The violence and dying continued to accelerate and came more and more to include clashes between various black groups contending for power and influence in the black community. Finally, the violence, the increasingly stringent sanctions that were imposed on South Africa by many nations including the United States, and the withdrawal of many multinational corporations beginning in late 1986 brought the country to a crisis. The last powerful National Party leader, P. W. Botha, was replaced in 1989 by F. W. de Klerk who moved quickly to relax security measures and begin a number of reforms including, in 1990, the suspension of bans on resistance movements. In that year Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Although the violence and killing continued, mainly between supporters of the ANC and Inkatha, South Africa held in 1994 its first multiracial election.
The ANC won with over 62% of the vote and Nelson Mandela became president. 
Awareness in the United States of human rights problems in South Africa had grown in the 1960s (partly because of Robert Kennedy's well-publicized and controversial visit in 1966, two years before his assassination). But in the early 1970s anti-apartheid groups had grown in strength in the United States and had by then begun to focus on corporations doing business there. That movement quickly intersected with Leon Sullivan's work and career. Sullivan was a Baptist minister in Philadelphia who had been very effective in the civil rights movement by persuading businesses to hire and promote qualified blacks. In 1970, he was appointed the first black member of General Motors' board of directors. In 1971, the Episcopal Church led by Bishop John Hines presented at General Motors' annual stockholders meeting a resolution requiring the company to withdraw operations from South Africa. Sullivan broke ranks with the other members of the GM board and spoke in favor of the resolution. The resolution failed, but Sullivan did not lose his interest in South Africa. Over the next few years he repeatedly proposed the same resolution, but without success. However, after a trip to South Africa in 1975, Sullivan radically changed his strategy. He sought out and began urging U.S. corporate executives to have their corporations adopt equal employment and benefits programs in South Africa much as they had in the United States in response to the civil rights movement. It was slow going at first, but an initial meeting held in December of 1975 allowed him to begin talks with a few interested executives. It required tremendous persistence on Sullivan's part, encouragement from several committed executives, and even the moral support of the Carter administration, but by March of 1977 Sullivan had convinced a dozen companies to sign the principles of operation that came to be known as the Sullivan Principles. Slowly other companies with interests in South Africa signed on and within a few years well over 100 corporations were signatories.
Almost immediately debate arouse over whether the Sullivan Principles were the best way for U.S. corporations to address South African issues. Many groups opposed to apartheid, often church-based organizations, rejected or even attacked Sullivan's approach as at best simply ineffective and at worst a way for corporations to shield themselves from criticism with very little effort. Understandably, Sullivan was very sensitive to such criticism and repeatedly and passionately expressed his belief in the principles and in the potential for corporations to contribute to positive change in South Africa. The …