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Businessman a Foe of Apartheid : Key S. African Liberal to Emigrate to Britain

January 26, 1988|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — A top South African businessman and leading white liberal announced Monday that he will emigrate to Britain. It means that one of the most forceful local voices for change will be silenced, and it dramatizes the continuing exodus of professional and business talent.

Tony Bloom, chairman of the Premier Group Holdings Ltd., a food industry conglomerate with more than $1.4 billion in assets and $100 million in profits last year, told the press conference that "an amalgam of personal, family and business reasons" is responsible for his decision to settle in London and leave behind a company, family-led for four generations, that ranks among the top 10 corporations in South Africa.

Bloom, a 48-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School and the Stanford Business School, denied that his sharp political differences with President Pieter W. Botha are responsible for the move. "I am a South African," he declared, "and I will remain a South African." But he acknowledged his concern about the country's immediate future as well as its prospects for resolving the underlying crisis.

Timetable Needed

He said the Botha government is moving much too slowly in promoting political, economic and social reform. He said it should demonstrate its commitment to reform and create conditions for negotiations on a new political system by establishing a timetable for the elimination of "every vestige of discriminatory legislation."

Bloom defied Botha by meeting publicly with the outlawed African National Congress, the principal group fighting minority white rule. And he campaigned vigorously for the immediate release of political prisoners, including ANC leader Nelson Mandela, for the end of the state of emergency and for other steps that would permit negotiations on a new constitutional system based on the principle of one person, one vote.

The white parliamentary elections last year, in which Botha's ruling National Party won a sweeping victory, the substantial gains of the far right and the serious losses of moderate whites, Bloom said, had deeply depressed him, for they implied that resolution of the country's problems is far in the future.

The primary reason for his departure, he said, is his daughter's paralysis as a result of a helicopter crash in England late last year. Although he had thought about emigrating earlier, he said, "the time trigger has been my family circumstances."

"If I were leaving for political reasons," he said, "I would say so. . . . I will miss the politics in South Africa--I am a political animal by nature--and it has been fascinating to live in South Africa where history is being made."

Exodus of Talent

For nearly three years there has been an exodus of South Africa's top talent--executives, physicians, scientists, engineers, educators, accountants--in a brain drain derided by many whites as the "chicken run" but seen by others as the only sensible solution for families caught up increasingly in the country's ever-deepening crisis.

In the first nine months of 1987, the most recent period for which figures are available, 1,659 professional and technical personnel left South Africa with their families, according to government statistics. These include 318 engineers, 212 university professors and other educators, 157 accountants and 91 physicians, dentists and medical specialists.

Although government officials contend that emigration is decreasing and was overtaken again last October by immigration, mostly from Britain and Zimbabwe, recent opinion surveys show that fully 5% of adult whites are likely to leave South Africa with their families in the next five years. Among university graduates, the proportion is as high as 53%.

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