South Africa’s ambassador to the U.S., Ebrahim Rasool, came to Atlanta from Washington to honor anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman, but before leaving he assured officials of the locally based South African American Chamber of Commerce that U.S. companies are welcome to do business in his homeland.
The chamber’s new president, James Munson, told GlobalAtlanta that he was impressed with Mr. Rasool’s assertion that “Africans really want American investment, that they are pro-American.”
Mr. Munson heads his own relocation company, Munson International Inc., and has been involved in several of the city’s bi-national chambers over the past 30 years.
Although he has been reluctant to volunteer to take on the responsibility of heading one of them, he readily accepted the offer from the South African chamber because of its potential to assist small- to medium-sized companies throughout the African continent.
“Most Americans don’t have a great idea of what’s going on in Africa,” Mr. Munson said in a telephone interview. “Americans are not aware of the positives. They need to quit thinking about all of the negatives.”
Mr. Munson said that he hopes to work with the other bi-national chambers to host events and generate business, mentioning that he already has talked with officers at the French American Chamber of Commerce and the British American Business Group.
Mr. Rasool visited Morehouse College Nov. 4 to celebrate Ms. Suzman’s courageous opposition to apartheid as a member of the South African parliament for 36 years. Her portrait, which was unveiled at the end of the event, is to hang next to one of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first president to be elected under a fully representative democratic election, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Chapel.
Mr. Rasool told GlobalAtlanta that as the strongest economy on the continent, South Africa has a responsibility to invest in other African countries.
He praised South Africa’s infrastructure, banking system and the presence of the rule of law, but added that it would be wrong to have “an island of prosperity on a continent of poverty.”
The chamber was launched in 2009 by the immediate past president Toni Castel in time to promote the World Cup held throughout South Africa earlier this year.
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ms. Castel came to Atlanta in 1999 and obtained her law degree from Georgia State University’s College of Law. In 2008, she launched The Castel Law Firm PC.
As president of the South African chamber, she helped initiative the Atlanta International Soccer Fest with the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Southern U.S.
Twenty soccer teams recruited from the local consulates and bi-national chambers participated in a competition, which coincided with the World Cup in June.
Thrilled to see her native country draw so much attention during the World Cup, she said that she was proud the country had been able to show off its advanced economy and to have held successfully a world-class event.
Nevertheless, she voiced her concerns once the World Cup was over in a World Affairs Council of Atlanta panel discussion about South Africa’s future in view of the economic challenges including widespread poverty.
Ms. Castel resigned from the chamber presidency since she is moving to Austin, Texas, to tap into its bustling economy, but said that she plans to retain her ties to Atlanta as best she can.
“I’m confident that the chamber will do well,” she added. “It has such a strong team behind it with an exceptional board.”