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Strains of the Old South African Sales Pitch Doesn’t Go Over Well

May 11, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ What was supposed to be a briefing Wednesday for eager small-business owners on opportunities in the new South Africa turned into a lesson of how the old message needs retooling.

About 30 people attended a New York seminar sponsored by the National Minority Business Council and the South African consulate, one day after Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa’s first black president.

″We have an opportunity to really get in in the beginning. Not many times as small business owners do we get these opportunities before the big guys get in,″ said the council’s president, John F. Robinson.

But Gerhard Stander, the economic consul, provided literature, slides and a talk about investment opportunities that seemed largely directed at the big guys, inviting help for plans that didn’t take into account the audience’s psychic, emotional and informational ties to South Africa. The African- American group, mostly entrepreneurs, had a hard time relating to it.

Some spectators said they didn’t hear enough about how they might contribute to the needs of the black majority that was exploited, abused and kept out of the business world.

Larry Cooper, of L.D. Cooper Associates Inc., a technology information systems consultancy in the New York suburb of Hempstead, L.I., said he came ″to get some insight on the new South Africa,″ not hear ″what the old South Africa has done.″

It doesn’t help to learn about South Africa’s fiber optics network ″when you have people who can’t read,″ Cooper said. ″We need to know what blacks need to help themselves.″

Stander’s presentation included lists of the new cabinet members, the provincial bureaucrats, exports, imports and the like. He also included occasional mentions about a lost generation of South Africans needing education and how businesses must budget work-force training into their operations.

J. Seldon-Loach, an independent contractor, said she was ″very concerned about the masses ... and how the new technology will be utilized. I wonder how black people will take advantage of that.″

″I knew he could not address our underlying concerns,″ she said.

Still, the consulate’s effort to woo African-American entrepreneurs seemed to reflect the increased importance South Africa attaches to that relationship. Robinson said that prior to Mandela’s inaugural, the South Africans ″wouldn’t be so anxious to address us. We weren’t in the whole scheme of things.″

″I think he (Stander) has to go through an adjustment phase,″ said Robinson, who otherwise praised Stander for his presentation.

Stander said he thought he was doing the right thing, making his ″presentations colorblind. What goes for one group, goes for another.″

But he conceded he ″wasn’t aware of everybody’s background.″ He looked forward to more presentations to such groups although ″I’m not pro-active in this area.″