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IPS-Inter Press Service October 7, 1987, Wednesday

South Africa: U.S. Clergy Group Linked to Shell Oil


BYLINE: by Samantha Sparks A new U.S. black religious coalition opposing corporate disinvestment from South Africa was organized by the firm that helps Shell Oil Company counter an anti-apartheid boycott of its products, IPS learned today. The Coalition on Southern Africa (COSA) was launched Sept. 10by several prominent black clergymen, ostensibly as an independent organization that would help prepare South African blacks to rule in a post-apartheid society. In fact, the group was put together by a Washington-based firm, Pagan International, possibly as part of an elaborate scheme to undermine a 22-month boycott campaign by anti-apartheid activists seeking to force the Royal Dutch Shellcompany out of South Africa. Royal Dutch Shell is the parent company of shell oil companies in South Africa and the United States.

Shell oil is estimated to have about 18 percent of the South African petroleum market through various shareholdings. Revelations about COSA's origin have led activists here to charge that the group was formed to help the oil giant weaken U.S. churches' support for the boycott campaign and improve the company's image as a benefactor of South African blacks. Donna Katzin, a staff member of the New York-based Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a leading church-based supporter of the Shell boycott, charged that COSA represents a deliberate attempt by shell to weaken the campaign. "I can't say (Shell) created COSA," Katzin said. "But instantly after COSA was created," other companies with South African operations began to point to it to show that not all U.S. church groups backed disinvestment, she said. She said executives of Mobil Oil, Caltex, and Colgate-Palmolive cited COSA during board meetings at which shareholders raised questions concerning these companies' South African operations. As such, "the use and advertisement of groups like COSA seem an attempt to divide and weaken the position of the religious community with regard to South Africa," Katzin said. Moreover, she said, "the strategy calls into serious question any commitment" by Shell to the welfare of South African blacks.

The U.S. anti-apartheid movement began a boycott campaign against Shell in January 1986, charging that Shell Oil in South Africa, the sister company of the Shell Oil Company in the U.S., helped prop up the Pretoria government by supplying critically needed fuel to the police and military. Royal Dutch Shell was targeted also because it owns South Africa's Rietspruit mine, where thousands of workers went on strike Aug. 10 protesting poor working conditions as part of the nation's biggest-ever strike. Representatives of Pagan, Shell, and COSA have all denied the oil company and the church group are linked. But considerable evidence suggests that they are. Pagan President John Mongoven told IPS today his firm has provided free office space and use of telephones to COSA, and has paid for travel by COSA's staff. "We voluntarily provided (COSA) assistance in getting started and announcing their existence," Mongoven told IPS. He said Pagan did so because the company felt "there ought to be some folks out there who are concerned with what will happen to the black population" in South Africa once apartheid is ended. But he said it was "totally fallacious and wrong" to link COSA to Shell. However, a 268-page document, prepared by Pagan in June 1986 for Royal Dutch Shell and its U.S. subsidiary, spells out in detail how the company should target key sectors of the U.S. anti-apartheid movement for a "counter boycott campaign." According to the plan, dubbed the "Neptune Strategy," politically active religious groups were "a critical mass" of support for the boycott, and of all the elements in the anti-apartheid movement, represented the "greatest potential threat" toShell. As such, Pagan said, Shell should try to generate within the religious community "thoughtfully programed and well-targeted positive conversations" and "action programs designed to attain the company's goals in an ethically acceptable context." Specifically, Shell should encourage church critics of its South African sister to develop "post-apartheid plans" that "will insure the continuation and growth of the Shell companies in the United States and South Africa." Pagan also proposed that Shell "develop a task force" of South Africans, church leaders, U.S. activists and executives that could issue a statement about the company's role in helping South Africa's blacks prepare for life after apartheid. And Pagan singled out key black activists and church leaders to help it carry out its plan. Many of the people it picked are now working for COSA -- at least on paper.

One month after it was launched with great fanfare, COSA has done nothing to follow-up on any of its ambitious proposals. In September, COSA said it would develop black-black business links between South Africa and the United States, promote education and training of South African blacks, and pressure for an end to apartheid. But COSA General Secretary Clyde Williams said today that the group had no resources at all to carry out its goals. Kitty Borah, a spokesperson for Shell Oil, said the company "has no relation with (COSA) and has never met the group." Moreover, Borah said, "We would like to emphasize that there has been no strategy planned or enacted by Shell Oil Company" to counter the boycott. "Pagan was hired to help us stay abreast of the boycott-related concerns of religious denominations in the United States and to help open channels of communication with them," Borah said. "Naturally, we have a concern when we think important religious, or for that matter any groups fail to understand our opposition to apartheid," she added.