Privatise the selling of South Africa?

Once upon a time there was an organisation called the South Africa Foundation. It was a voice of big business in the apartheid era and it spoke in markets South Africa then considered particularly important. It had offices in London, Paris, Bonn and Washington. Its representatives in those capitals were cultivated, well-connected men who could speak confidently and credibly to captains of industry, policymakers and shapers of public opinion abroad and to those with ears to hear back home.

Yes, they lobbied against sanctions and disinvestment, but they did so independent of the then government. These were no apologists for a wicked system but they did take the unfashionable view that gumming up the economic engines of change was not the best way to go about ending it. What they wanted the world to understand was that, as dire as things looked, South Africa Inc. had the resources, human and physical, to transcend the beastliness of apartheid, and that the centre would hold.

After 1994, the Foundation’s corporate underwriters closed its international offices and rebranded the organisation as Business Leadership SA. They figured full-time overseas representation was now an unnecessary expense and that their purposes could be just as well served by parachuting in an occasional stick of CEOs. Amid the optimism of the Nelson Mandela quinquennium, who could blame them? Continue reading “Privatise the selling of South Africa?”