JEREMY LINK is trying to enter the 21st century by harking back to tradition. The company Mr. Link represents manufactures ``African artifacts'' based on designs that have been created for hundreds of years by ``bushmen,'' original inhabitants of Link's native South Africa.
Some of the bushmen's designs - in the form of colorful fabrics and wooden statues - made their way to New York last week as part of ``South Africa and the USA: Strengthening the Link,'' the largest trade show ever undertaken by the South African government. The show, which ended Friday, also was the first trade show since all international sanctions on South Africa were lifted last year.
Trade show's goal
The aim of the show, according to Trevor Manuel, South Africa's new Minister of Trade and Industry, was to ``maximize the opportunities offered by strengthened economic ties with [the] US as a result of the lifting of sanctions.'' The trade show precedes a visit to New York next week by South African President Nelson Mandela, who is seeking renewed United States investment in his country.
The show also coincides with a greater interest in the South African economy. A report issued today by The Conference Board, a worldwide business association based in New York, says South Africa's five-year Reconstruction and Development program, devised by the African National Congress and its allies to rebuild post-apartheid South Africa, offers ``a host of new opportunities'' for investment.
Derick Holmes, an export strategist for Renfreight, a South African freight forwarding company and a co-sponsor of the show, agrees that the time is right for American firms to do business with South Africa. He points to the country's port facilities, transportation and communications networks, and location at the southern tip of the continent. This infrastructure and location puts South Africa in a position to serve as the main point of entry and exit for trade throughout the continent. The show itself was one indication of the potential for South African trade.
Exhibitors displayed goods that ranged from the decorative to the practical, offering everything from jewelry to steel conveyor belts. South African banks represented the service sector and safari trips for more adventurous Americans.
By the end of the four-day show, many of the South Africans said they were optimistic, if not ecstatic, about the results.
S. C. Smith of ABSA Bank in South Africa said he felt satisfied that the bank achieved its goal to make American contacts and promote the bank's services. He pointed out that America is already South Africa's primary trading partner. ``After years of sanctions, the world is finally opening up to South Africa,'' he said.
Michael Brownstone, a South African jewelry manufacturer, said he also was encouraged by the results of the show. ``I think I can be a success in this country,'' he said. Mr. Brownstone added that he was especially happy with the large response he received from African Americans, who he said are the target audience for his ``up-market ethnic jewelry.'' Like many South African businesses there, he said he hoped to appeal to black Americans' sense of identity with Africa.
Less positive results
Other South Africans at the trade show, however, were less enthusiastic about the results. Salman Khan of Khan International Imports and Exports said he was ``very disappointed'' with the lack of American response to his products and to the show in general. ``There should be more people here that are curious about what South Africa can do,'' he complained. He blamed the problem on poor advertising.
``The organizers of the show didn't do their homework,'' agreed Sarie Badenhurst, a manufacturer of hand-knitted sweaters. She said her business received a lot of interest, but no orders.
Some American business people were more enthusiastic. Kim Bressant and Cheryle Dent said they found ``wonderful products'' for their Brooklyn decorating business, African Home Inc. Ms. Bressant and Ms. Dent, who recently visited South Africa, said they have long referred to the country as ``the missing element,'' because until now it was the only part of the African continent they did not do business with.