The Ford Motor Co., which has done business in South Africa for 55 years, "intends to stay" because "we do more for the people of South Africa by staying here," chairman Henry Ford II said today at the end of an eight-day visit to this country.
The decision, which Ford said was taken after discussions with the board of directors, is characteristic of the attitude American companies operating in this country are adopting in the face of increasing debate over their participation in an economy which supports apartheid.
Most companies say they inted to remain in South Africa, some are increasing their investment here, Last November they organized a chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce - the only one in subsaharan Africa.
Ford's announcement that his company will continue its presence can only be heartening to the South African government which is anticipating ever-increasing pressures on U.S. companies to "disinvest" here in protest against he government's racial policies.
Faced with the prospect of an intensified campaign by governments, church bodies and the United Nations for heightened economic pressures on South Africa, many people here cling to the belief that private businesses already deeply involved in South Africa will resist pressure to pull out. Ford's visit is viewed as an encouraging indication that "financial interests" are "taking an increasingly strong stand against the political campaign (to disinvest)," said the pro-government Afrikans language newspaper, Die Vaderland.
Foreign Minister Roloef 'Pik' Botha, who met with Ford for 90 minutes yesterday, said, "I think there can be no doubt that (companies that remain in South Africa) are making a specific contribution, not only to the economic growth of South Africa, but also towards the improvement of standards of the blacks in this country."
"It is therefore incomprehensible that any right-thinking persons who insists and wishes that the economic and material standards of the blacks should improve, insists that these companies should withdraw from South Africa."
At his midday press conference at Johannesburg's Carlton Hotel today, Ford hinted that such pressures prompted his visit here at this time.
"I am aware of the importance of the internal and external difficulties that face South Africa today. The Western world is deeply concerned about the pace of social development here. Business firms like Ford are questioned by various organizations and government officials about our role in your country. We are obliged to be responsive to all such inquiries," he said.
Asked by a South African reporter whether he expected opposition to the decision to remain here from his minority shareholders, Ford said that at the annual stockholders meeting in want to raise hell and . . . those who swering them today."
With a 1977 investment of $110 million and sales in 1976 of $288 million, Ford ranks among the top ten U.S. companies operating here. At its automobile and truck assembly plant in the coastal town of Port Elizabeth, Ford employs the largest number of South Africans - 4,600 in 1976 - of any American firm here.
Although it sells its products in many black-ruled African countries, Ford has no investments in any other African country outside of South Africa.
During his week-long tour, the 60-year-old automobile manufacturer discussed "general matters in a constructive sense" with Prime Minister John Vorster, toured his assembly plant in Port Elizabeth, met with local Ford car dealers and was the dinner guest of diamond magnate, Harry J. Oppenheimer.
Ford also had an opportunity to talk with black leaders at a private dinner party sponsored by an executive of Anglo-Transvaal> a mining and industrial complex, Zulu chief Gatsha Buthelezi, black Chamber of Commerce official, Sam Motseryane and colored leader Richard Van Der Ross were among the guests.
Three of Ford's top executives also had an unpublicized meeting at the U.S. consulate here with Soweto community leaders, among them were businessman Sally Motlana and university professor Wilke Khambule. According to sources close to the talks, which centered on the role of multinational companies in Africa, the blacks said they expected U.S. companies here not only to improve conditions of black workers on the job site, but also to assist in positive action programs in the community as a whole.
"In our opinion, we do more for the people of South Africa by staying here and employing them and having equal opportunity rights to the extent we can," Ford said. He admitted that his company had not paid enough attention to the promotion of blacks. "The progress in this area is not as rapid as it should have been, but hopefully in the future we will do a better job."
In order to improve promotion opportunities for blacks, Ford has budgeted 1.85 million for training and development and $208,000 for educational scholarships in 1978, Ford said. "There must be more training and better training," he added.
In the sensitive area of black labor union recognition, Ford's management last September recognized a black union that now represents its 900 black workers. It already had recognized the colored workers union, which represents Ford's 14,000 colored assembly line employees.
Ford "has taken a positive attitude" towards the unions, said labor union organizer Fred Saules. "It wasn't all that easy. We had to fight. But they didn't put obstacles in our way," he said.
Ford's management does not accept job reservation clauses in its contract with the white unions. Ford executive Brain Pitt said, but there are still some positions reserved only for whites in the Ford operations here. Management has recommended to the government that these statutory job reservations be scrapped.
For the past four years, Ford's profits in South Africa have been "negligible," the chairmans said. Last year the company finished as market leader in vehicle sales here despite the fact it lost $8 million, he said. Predicting that the decline in the market has bottomed out, Ford said he hoped that car sales in South Africa will be 6 per cent better in 1978.
"In the final analysis, only a strong economy - built upon profitable businesses - can pay the bills for social progress," he added.