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S. Africa Firm to Give Stock to Workers : Employees Mostly Black; Union Calls Plan 'Paltry Scheme'

November 27, 1987|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Anglo American Corp., South Africa's largest mining and manufacturing conglomerate, announced Thursday that it will begin giving shares of its stock to its predominantly black work force in a $240-million effort to broaden stock ownership among its employees.

Gavin H. Relly, the Anglo American chairman, stressed the company's hope that the plan will accelerate political and social change in South Africa but, at the same time, convince its 270,000 employees of the virtues of free enterprise and a market economy.

"Alone, this is not going to change the shape of South Africa," Relly said, "but it may be one of those small things that sends ripples across the whole country."

'Need Common Goals'

"South Africa is in the transition away from apartheid," Relly added, "and in the new society now emerging, South Africans need common goals, common experience, common challenges."

Behind this effort at "wealth creation," as the company described the program, is Anglo American's serious concern about the widespread support of socialism among blacks and the commitment of the African National Congress, the leading anti-apartheid organization, to nationalize what it calls the "commanding heights" of the country's economy should it come to power.

But the predominantly black National Union of Mineworkers, South Africa's largest union, immediately rejected the plan as "economic and political blackmail" and argued that the money should go directly into improving worker pay and benefits.

Union Sees 'Maneuver'

"The scheme stinks," said Cyril Ramaphosa, the Mineworkers' general secretary. "It is a maneuver to ensure that free enterprise is entrenched in a post-apartheid society. . . . This initiative is an attempt to undermine the strength of the unions.

"What the workers are demanding is that they get a living wage and a bigger share of the companies' profits going towards wages," Ramaphosa continued. "They won't be tricked into a paltry share-ownership scheme."

While denying any intention of undercutting the 35 unions with which Anglo American negotiates, Relly acknowledged the company's hope that the free shares, worth about $150 this year at current stock prices and exchange rates, will gradually increase worker understanding for the firm's profitability and future.

Anglo American's intention, Relly said, is to create "new inter-relationships" between the company, its management and the workers that "recognize our common goals, our common interests."

After five years, an average black worker would probably hold stock worth two or three months' earnings, Anglo American officials said, and thus might more closely follow the company's fortunes. Consideration will also be given to allowing employees to add to their share holdings through stock purchases at subsidized prices. An employee will be allowed to sell his shares after four years.

The share-ownership plan is being introduced with what company officials described as "a major communications program" that will attempt to sell workers on the benefits of a market economy as well as on what they will gain from owning stock.

Anglo American is South Africa's largest gold producer, and through its subsidiaries and associated companies has major holdings in banking, insurance, real estate and a wide range of industrial enterprises.

About 30 other South African companies have recently instituted employee share-ownership or profit-sharing plans in similar attempts to win support for continuation of the country's present market economy even after the establishment of a political system based on majority rule.

Economist Warned Firms

Prof. Jill Nattrass, a labor economist at the University of Natal in Durban, warned companies here recently that they must act quickly if they hope to ensure a role for free enterprise in a post-apartheid South Africa.

"The basic nature of South African capitalism will have to change from one of exclusivism and exploitation to one based on participation and concern," she said, suggesting share-ownership and profit-sharing plans as the most obvious steps a company could take.

Org Marais, the deputy finance minister, described these efforts earlier this week as an important initiative by South African business to "convince large segments of our underprivileged population of the true merits of a free-market system."

"These well-meant intentions of broadening democracy and economic welfare are being pooh-poohed by radical trade union movements as 'just another capitalist ploy to exploit the workers,' " he commented, "and so perhaps we should go about it more quietly."

5 Shares Per Worker

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