South Africa Open to Multinational Partnerships

Article excerpt

The end of apartheid and the election of a government representing all citizens has transformed South Africa from an international business pariah into a land of opportunity. For commercial, governmental and philanthropic purposes, enterprises large and small in South Africa are seeking links with, and investments from, multinational organizations.

South Africa has "huge problems and enormous capabilities," explained Francois Baird, chairman of Baird's Communications (Pty) Ltd., in Randburg, near Johannesburg. Baird is also publisher of Baird's Africa Review, a respected weekly report on political, economic and business trends in the region. His finn recently affilated with Edeman Public Relations Worldwide, based in New York.

"We are a third-world country in a first-world cloak," said Baird, who was a delegate to the White House Conference on Africa in June. For example, South Africa boasts world-class business-to-business communications in media, telephone and information technology, he noted. There are about five million automobiles in South Africa, compared to about 300,000 in the rest of Africa, added Baird, who also publishes Baird's Automotive Intelligence.

On the other hand, many South African citizens are uneducated and lack access to technology as elementary as telephones, according to Baird. "Normal media can't reach poor, rural, black townships," he said. "Communicating with these consumers is a cross-cultural, multilingual exercise." Africans, both black and white, are very brand-conscious, he added. This has caused an increase in competition among consumer products and packaged goods in the marketplace.

Represents all citizens

The new coalition government in South Africa, headed by President Nelson Mandela, is currently courting foreign governments in search of investment partners. The United States, for instance, is investing $600 million, mostly for housing in South Africa, reported Kingsley Makhubela, deputy chief representative, African National Congress (ANC) Mission to the United Nations.

The Mandela government's Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) addresses problems left in the wake of apartheid, such as lack of housing, education and health care for the country's black majority, Makhubela said at a press conference in New York City on June 25. South Africa has 1.5 million homeless and 14 million illiterate residents, he added. There are about 30 million black South Africans.

The Mandela Cabinet is truly representative of all of the country's citizens, he added. It includes representatives of all parties, including the ANC, Inkata Freedom Party and the Nationalists. "Security forces, civil servants, labor unions and the business community are all represented in the Cabinet," Makhubela said. There is also a good racial and political mix in the governments of the country's nine newly established regions, he added.

Labor, business and government form a "gold triangle" and have common views on development, Baird noted. "A recent research report shows that the `silent majority' of black South Africans believe in free market principles, not socialism," he said

The term "silent majority" was coined by South Africa's former President F.W. deKlerk, according to the New York Times Magazine. He was referring to the five million blacks who belong to the Zion Christian Church. ZCC members believe in nonviolence, family, work and respect for authority. They are considered the conservatives in the black political movement, and it is widely believed that they voted for the ANC, Nelson Mandela's political party, in the April 27 elections.

South Africa's silent majority is considered by both black and white South Africans to be a major factor in the country's stability. "Stability in South Africa is far greater than you realize," according to Baird. "Business confidence is going up steadily.

"After 300 years of apartheid, South Africa made a peaceful transition to democracy in four years," he said. …