SOUTH AFRICA, INC.: The Oppenheimer Empire by David; Sarah Stewart & Ian Lepper Pallister

SOUTH AFRICA, INC.: The Oppenheimer Empire

Email this review


An avowedly adversarial appreciation of a multinational leviathan that the authors characterize as ""in many respects, the dynamo of [South Africa's] apartheid economy."" Guardian correspondent Pallister and his two collaborators have chosen the moral equivalent of a straw man as the target of their revisionist critique. Despite a carefully cultivated reputation for liberality, they argue, Anglo American, De Beers, and other elements of the globe-girdling Oppenheimer empire rank among the most loyal allies of the white minority regime and its repressive racial policies. While the authors gain at best a Scotch verdict (i.e., not proven) on this charge, they make a fine job of sorting through the vast, diversified, and interlocking interests controlled by the heirs of Sir Ernest Oppenheimer (who launched Anglo American Corp. of South Africa in 1917). All told, the Anglo/De Beers combine has over 1,350 subsidiaries and associated companies. Employing upwards of 800,000 on six continents, these entities give the parent organizations lucrative stakes in chemicals, financial services, natural resources, publishing, and allied industrial or commercial activities. Among the more visible manifestations of the group's power is de facto control of the world's diamond trade. Less well known is the fact that it is the largest foreign investor in the US and an important trading partner of the Soviet Union. In effect, the authors (who go out of their way to find fault with corporate programs as innocuous as a stock-ownership plan) are contending that Anglo and its affiliates could have done more in the ongoing struggle to achieve ""a democratic as well as prosperous South Africa."" Perhaps so, but they also concede that business cannot be viewed as the cutting edge of socioeconomic and political change in this troubled land. As a practical matter, only time will tell whether Anglo's self-interest was enlightened or suicidal. In the meanwhile, Pallister and his colleagues offer a comprehensive concordance to a consequential enterprise.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1988
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press