Local ties to S. Africa encouraged Business partnerships are key, leaders say


Vice President Al Gore and South Africa's Deputy President Thabo Mbeki yesterday encouraged Baltimore's business community to get involved in South Africa's economic development on a local level.

"Positive solutions to public challenges come not only from Washington or Pretoria, but from our states and communities," Gore said to the South Africa Business Roundtable at the World Trade Center.

Gore, who co-chairs the U.S.-South Africa Bi-National Commission with Mbeki, said he brought the deputy president to Baltimore on the eve of the commission's second full session to show him a city "on the cutting edge of the nation's efforts" to establish an economic relationship with South Africa.

Welcoming local business officials as well as political leaders including Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stressed that South Africa's "long-awaited freedom would be hollow" without economic prosperity.

Mbeki went further. Saying "both [nations] do not want another Rwanda," he stressed the economic foundation behind the Rwandan uprisings, calling them "a scramble for scarce resources."

Schmoke, who attended the inauguration with Gore of South African President Nelson Mandela in 1994, originated the Roundtable in July of that year.

In September 1994, Roundtable co-chair Joseph Reid negotiated an intercommerce agreement between Baltimore and Johannesburg "to forge a new partnership at a local level," said Reid, a senior partner at the Baltimore law firm McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe. Since then, the Roundtable has expanded to 80 active members.

Members include companies such as Overseas Marketing Corp. of Baltimore, which runs an office in South Africa and trains local businessmen, and Baltimore's Art Afrique International, which sells African art in the United States. The Maryland Office of International Business has also taken local companies to trade shows in South Africa for the past three years, said Sheila Dixon, senior trade specialist at OIB.

Development Design Group Inc. of Baltimore is one of the local companies most involved.

With an office in Johannesburg, DDG said it has projects under way in Cape Town and Pretoria, and is in the planning stages of residential development projects in Johannesburg, Midrand and the western and eastern Cape regions. In addition, DDG runs an internship program for South African architecture students, said Roy Higgs, its chief executive officer and Roundtable co-chairman. Gore and Mbeki toured DDG and met the company's two interns yesterday before the discussion.

Citing DDG as an example, Mbeki called Baltimore a place where "you find actual, practical things being done."

He also stressed the importance of international education and interpersonal exchange in addition to investment, denying that American businessmen in South Africa have taken "a kind of " 'don't care, I'm-only-out-for-my-own-returns' kind of attitude."

But some Roundtable participants said although they wanted to get further involved, they don't have the funds.

For example, Overseas Marketing's Vice President Maureen Tischler said her company's efforts can only go so far when there is no one to pay for them. But Gore responded, "to pursue these kinds of business plans, financing need not be an insurmountable variable." He said the Bi-National Commission will announce plans this week to aid U.S. firms seeking to get involved in South Africa.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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