A day, or even a month, in the life of South Africa's most expensive registered U.S. agent is a humdrum affair, filled with "Jack Horners." It goes like this:
Met with Sylvia Porter re gold story.
Called George Meany re ICFTU boycott.
Looked into admission at Deerfield Academy for son of black South African millionaire.
These samples are culled from internal activity reports at Sydney S. Baron & Co. that were made available to The Washington Post. Baron is the Madison Avenue public relations man whose $650,000 yearly contract with the apartheid regime has just been renewed for another 12 months.
The documents tell a far less dramatic story than the one now being spread by Eschel Rhoodie, Baron's original Pretoria paymaster. As a government official, Rhoodie invented a secret, multi-million-dollar fund to buy friends and influence people for the regime. Lately, Rhoodie has been hinting in public that his money was used, among other things, to buy the defeat of South Africa's foes on Capitol Hill and the friendship of U.S. labor leaders.
But the public relations game, as a practitioner familiar with Baron's said, is composed "40 percent of puff, of Jack Horners"-embellished assertions demonstrating to clients "what a good boy am I."
Rhoodie, once the top civil servant in South Africa's Orwellian-named "Department of Information," is somewhere in Europe, ducking South African charges of fraud and theft.
Described almost everywhere as a charming, charismatic man, Rhoodie no doubt practiced "Jack Horners" with his bosses in the South African secret service and more conventional ministers.*tThe item about AFL-CIO President Meany and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions would have offered Rhoodie a splendid opportunity. In 1977, the ICFTU called for a boycott on goods headed to and from South Africa. It staged the project-which flopped-with the communist-dominated World Federation of Trade Unions. This made it certain the Meany, who had already pulled the AFL-CIO out of the ICFTU, would not let U.S. unions take part, and he said so publicly.
But Rhoodie could tell superiors that their New York agents had reached Meany, implying that the slush fund money had been well spent. Meany's office flatly denies that their boss ever spoke with anybody from Baron's shop about the boycott.
There is little doubt that Rhoodie mounted bolder ventures to promote South Africa's cause. He reportedly turned over $11.5 million to a Michigan publisher, John McGoff, to buy The Washington Star. The ploy failed, but then so did many of the chores attempted by Rhoodie's man on Madison Avenue.
In June 1977, Baron and his team set up an elaborate "seminar" at the Hilton Hotel in Rye, N.Y., to persuade a select group of businessmen that an investment bonanza awaited them in South Africa. Henry Kissinger was supposed to come for $10,000 but did not. The businessmen had to settle for former treasury secretary William Simon, and at the same price.
Even more disturbing, the "seminar" led to a rupture between Baron and one of his prize collaborators, Andrew Hatcher. He had beeen the black assistant press secretary for presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
Hatcher had hired the hotel's "Water Room" for the gathering, unaware that this was simply the vacant space around the swimming pool-something less than the advertised privacy. Baron, according to those present, dressed down Hatcher in outraged tones. Today, however, Baron insists their parting was "amiable" and he has "high regard for Andy."
Another "seminar" in Houston last June drew Gerald Ford for the standard $10,000. This could well be the source of Rhoodie's "Jack Horner" suggesting that no less than a presidential candidate has been on his slush fund's payroll.
Seminars to promate investment are no doubt a useful expenditure of anybody's money. But a South African General Accounting Office might have trouble justifying a secret fund for other items in the Baron activity reports. Samples:
Wrote Denys Rhoodie (a brother Eschol put on the "Information" payroll) about the bureaucratic obstacles to proposed trip by Harry Reasoner of ABC.
Explained to House Speaker Tip O'Neill and other congresmen that a proposed inquiry into South African lobbying would be "counter-productive."
Arranged a U.S. tour for Sidney Maree, South African miler."Please do not underestimate the importance of this project."
Developing a plan with Donald de Kieffer (principal South African lobbyist in Washington) to extend "equal time" doctrine on television to nations that think themselves unfairly treated.
Arranging South African trip for three "distinguished" Jewish leaders.
Even little things often went wrong, and with the most innocuous activities.
The black millionaire's son decided not to go to Deerfield.
Runner Maree came up with an injured thigh.
But other activities at least sounded more fruitful:
Continuing to contact members of the new Democratic Party administration.
Monitored anti-apartheid rally in Herald Square.
Lunch with Readers'Digest reporter re trip to Transkei.
On one thing, everybody in the game insists: nobody pumped South African money into American political races. Indeed, that can be a jailable offense.
Over the phone from New York, Baron was emphatic. "We never funneled a single penny for South Africa or any othe client for political purposes."
In Washington, de Kieffer the chief lobbyist, was equally firm. "I plan to be around a long time," the 33-year-old lawyer said. "That kind of stuff is bush."
Public records show that South Africa's U.S. agents did and do contribute to politicians-but always in their own name. That is lawful. What they can not do on pain of a year in jail is serve as a conduit for a foreign government's money.
The distinction is a bit fine spun. When Baron and his staff or de Kieffer and his partners give, their donations in part flow from their Pretoria fees, as well as from all their clients.
In any case, the records reveal that South Africa's men in Washington and New York give mostly modest amounts to politicians of all parties and persuasion. They are the sort of dues that men regularly dealing with politicians must pay to stay in the club.
Rhoodie's hints to the otherwise have received their richest treatment in a "synopsis" prepared by his friends and distributed to news organizations in hope that they would pay $20,000 for the former official's tape recordings and documents.
This brochure or trailer contends that Pretoria's agents in the United States poured $250,000 into the campaigh that unseated Sen. Dick Clark, the Iowa Democrat. The synopsis also declares that Rhoodie's documents-which he has told the BBC are hidden in safes in Europe-would show that South Afican money helped bring down Sen. John Tunney, the California Democrat. On the BBC's air, however, Rhoodie was careful to name no names and stated "categorically" that none of Pretoria's funds went directly to politicians.
Whether the synopsis is another "Jack Horner" or whether Rhoodie really does have the goods buried away is anybody's guess.*tWith Hatcher gone, Baron says he now deal "entirely in economic activity" on behalf of South Africa, leaving legislative contacts entirely to de Kieffer. "When Andy was with me, we did broader PR work," he adds.
Even so, Baron's report filed on July 23 acknowledges that he was engaged in "general legislative interests relating to U.S.-South African economic and investment interests." More specifically, he was fighting an amendment that would bar subsidized Export-Import Bank loans for exports to South Africa.
Baron, moreover, keeps a former House member, New York Republican Seymour Halpern, on his team as an executive vice president.
The Jack Horners, no doubt, continue. More items from reports labeled "Political Activities" and the like:
Clarified "misunderstanding" and "misconceptions" on the part of many congressmen about South Africa's racial and political problems.
Conferred with Moynihan respeaking at Capetown seminar. (He never went.)
Initiated effort to place ad re Transkei in Ebony magazine. (It was refused.)
"It's not just a con game," asserts a man who knows Baron's operation. "It's standardized PR. A certain amount, maybe 50 percent, must be accurate."
The rest, he implies, is a Jack Horner plum.
Research for this article was contributed by Valerie Thomas.