The U.S. companies that are preparing to reestablish their presence in South Africa are in a strong position to show the way in the political and social upheaval ahead. President F.W. de Klerk's referendum victory on Mar. 17 gives him a mandate to negotiate power-sharing with groups representing the black majority in an interim government. That, in turn, will open the way for constitutional reform. If successful, the new charter will guarantee the rights of whites and other minorities in a political system that the blacks will inevitably dominate. When that happens, U.S. cities and states should end the sanctions they have imposed to discourage U.S. corporate investment in South Africa.
The businesses most likely to survive and prosper in this transition are those that help South Africa by creating jobs and opportunities for advancement by qualified blacks. American companies that have long-term experience with multiracial work forces can help set the pace, many South Africans say, by applying their management knowhow in the hiring, training, and promoting of blacks in South Africa. U.S. companies should also seek out black entrepreneurs as dealers and partners in starting new businesses.
As political power shifts, employers in South Africa may well face growing pressure for job quotas as a way of undoing the unjust legacy of apartheid. To forestall calls for quotas, it is urgent for companies with good records in integrating their American work forces to move swiftly to the same goal in South Africa. Such a track record will give them moral authority as well as management experience to help strike the difficult balance between reverse discrimination and the creation of legitimate job opportunities for all South Africans.