With American companies pulling out of South Africa almost weekly, black anti-apartheid groups inside South Africa face a financial crisis. The problem will likely come to a head next spring. If apartheid is not abolished by May 31, 1987, the Rev. Leon Sullivan of Philadelphia, who created the code of ethics for American companies operating in South Africa, has called for a pullout by United States businesses.
The companies adhering to the Sullivan Principles have been the most active in community development, having contributed $200 million to projects since 1977. The companies remaining after May would have no pressure to continue the funding.
Some corporations, including Coca-Cola, International Business Machines, and General Motors, have said they will meet current commitments for the next few years, even after they technically stop their operations there.
``But the writing is on the wall,'' says Michael Sinclair, a white South African who has spent nearly the last 10 years working on community development projects in South Africa. Already, money from smaller companies has slowed to a trickle.
The situation has spurred Mr. Sinclair, a senior researcher at the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) in Washington, D.C., to look for ways to fill the gap.
In a just-published book, he outlines steps that US companies, foundations, churches, and government agencies can take to use their money more effectively.
He spent May and June in South Africa interviewing 76 leaders of unions, churches, community organizations, political and liberation groups, and professional organizations, among others.
What he found, he says, was ``a concern that after the demise of apartheid, the majority government would not be able to meet the needs of blacks'' - nutrition, education, health care, etc. - and that could doom a majority government from the outset.
While noting that majority rule is some way off, he says American institutions should now begin planting the seeds for long-term community development in South Africa.
That doesn't necessarily involve shiploads of money; equipment and training are just as valuable. Moreover, he says, throwing money at the problem has a poor track record.
``American corporations have put $200 million into South Africa since 1977,'' he says. ``But the net effect has been almost negligible.''
The reason, he says, is the motive of American donors and how they are perceived by blacks living in South Africa.
He cites Pace College, a high school for blacks in Soweto, as an example. Pace is financed by American corporations in South Africa through the American Chamber of Commerce. It was well attended, and known for its superior facilities.
The school became a political target, however, and was closed earlier this year. Among the reasons, blacks say, was that it was not racially integrated; it taught mainly commercial subjects, raising the suspicion that the US companies were motivated chiefly by self-interest; and after five years, it had still failed to appoint a black headmaster or let blacks in the community run it.
In contrast, Khanya College, with 65 black students at two campuses each, has an entirely different image among blacks.
According to Sinclair, it has an African (not European or American) orientation, covering liberal arts, math, and sciences, rather than just commercial skills.
It was developed (in conjunction with Indiana University) to hone the academic skills of blacks so they can compete at the ``open universities,'' which have more flexible admissions rules and are superior to black schools.
What differentiates the two schools - and other programs that succeed or fail - ``is not substance but attitude,'' Sinclair says.
The way to get the most mileage out of US dollars, he says, is to deal on a local level and with ``second- and third-tier'' leaders, not necessarily the high-profile political figures.
He gives a comprehensive list of such groups at the end of his book, ``Community Development in South Africa'' (available through the IRRC at 1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036).
Of course, he says, there's ``always the possibility'' that the donors, particularly corporations, could be hassled by working directly with local community organizations, since the latter are not always favorites of the government.
``But in the long run,'' he says, ``American humanitarian and strategic interests will be well served by the establishment of a stable nonracial democracy in South Africa.''