The D.C. Chamber of Commerce, a predominantly black business organization, has dropped the South African ambassador as an honorary sponsor of its awards banquet following protests from political and civic leaders about that nation's segregation policy.
James L. Denson, president of the chamber, yesterday confirmed the dropping of ambassador David Sole and the withdrawal of an invitation to tomorrow night's black-tie dinner. Denson said sending the invitation to Sole was "a clerical error."
A spokesman for the South African embassy said the ambassador had not planned to attend the event.
Although Denson insisted there was no pressure to drop the envoy, an aide to city council member John L. Ray (D-At Large) said she telephoned the chamber president with an ultimatum.
"I told him (Denson) that if Mr. Sole's name remained (on the program Mr. Ray's name would have to be removed, or vice versa." Ray's executive assistant, Imani Kazana, said. "I was assured that the South African ambassador's name would not be printed on the program."
Aides to Mayor Marion Barry were critical of the invitation to Sole, but aides said the mayor made no move to block the ambassador's participation.
Barry's wife, Effi, is an honorary chairperson of the dinner, and plans to attend, according to her assistant, Lynn Dunson. The mayor will be out of the city.
Last year, the mayor and his wife turned down a suggestion by the U.S. International Communications Agency that they include South Africa on the itinerary of their three-week tour of Africa.
Denson, the chamber president, is a Republican member of the three-person D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, and was appointed its chairman last year by Barry.
After the controversy erupted over the invitation to Sole, Denson said he telephoned the ambassador personally and withdrew it. He later issued a public statement saying the chamber "regrets the inconvenience" to all who were affected.
The invitation to Sole came about, Denson said, when a chamber secretary was instructed to send invitations to the entire diplomatic corps in Washington asking them to serve on the honorary dinner committee.
"The ambassador of South Africa was on the list," Denson said, and along with 19 other envoys "he responded favorably that he would be glad to serve . . . Had I caught it, his name would not have been on the (invitation) list in the first place."
Denson stressed that the chamber "does not support the segregated policies of South Africa."
Willie Lotz, press attache of the South African embassy, said the ambassador agreed some time ago to become an honorary sponsor, "but when the (dinner) invitation arrived a week or 10 days ago, he was forced to decline it because of a previous engagement."
Lotz would not comment on the controversy that led to the withdrawal of the invitation.
In addition to the diplomatic corps, the list of honorary sponsors of the Washington Hilton Hotel dinner includes Mayor Barry, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chairman Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) of the House District of Columbia Committee, most members of the D.C. City Council and a cross-section of business, civic and religious leaders.
Guy Draper, Mayor Barry's protocol director, said "it was insulting to have the ambassador's name appear on the invitation" along with these sponsors.
Kazana, the aide to council member Ray, said she received objections to the South African envoy's participation from several members of both the council and Congress and from ambassadors from black Africa.