Fledgling forum hopes Mandela will 'drop in' during China visit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 1998, 12:00am

The South African Business Forum is banking on President Nelson Mandela to help lift the organisation's stature into a fully-fledged Chamber of Commerce.

Founded six months ago by a core of 34 businessmen, the group was too small to fund a chamber. But hopes are still high of achieving the ambition - especially if Mr Mandela stops off in Hong Kong when he makes his first visit to China as president later this year, according to forum chairman Nick Burton.

Mr Mandela has not yet scheduled a SAR stopover on the historic trip, which is tentatively scheduled for September. He first visited China in October 1992.

'There are moves to get him here. Obviously, we are especially keen and are making a play,' Mr Burton said.

'He would be a tremendous drawcard. We could definitely fill the Convention Centre if he comes and it would lift the profile of our organisation considerably.' In any event, the South African Business Forum has grown rapidly since its launch. Membership has doubled to 70 and Mr Burton hopes to boost it to 100 by the group's first anniversary in November - by which time the dream of launching a South African Chamber of Commerce will be much closer.

'It's all down to the size of the membership. For a chamber, we need a fairly permanent staff, which requires some financial clout to maintain. At present, we don't have the funding. As a forum, we can't charge for membership, so we're dependent on sponsorship and help from members for administration,' he said.

'But if we reach a membership of 100 at the end of our first year, I'll be proposing we re-consider founding a chamber.' To boost membership, the forum is extending beyond the core of chief executives of South African companies.

'We're broadening our focus and inviting a lot of Hong Kong and mainland businessmen with South African trade and investment connections,' Mr Burton said.

Representatives of both China Resources and the iron and steel giant, Shaogang, from the mainland have joined, so have those of HSBC, which was recently granted a mandate to advise the South African Government on privatisation.