Coalition for Southern Africa

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Coalition for Southern Africa (COSA) was a front group created by the PR firm of Pagan International to help Shell Oil counter a boycott against its business dealings in apartheid South Africa. COSA and the Pagan International's 'Neptune Strategy' were unmasked in 1987.

History

In the 1980s, Shell and other corporations that continued to do business in South Africa came under fire from protesters who pressured them to pull out of the country as part of a campaign against the country's racist apartheid system. Shell turned to Pagan International, owned by Rafael Pagan and Jack Mongoven, who had previously advised the Nestlé corporation on strategies for neutralizing protests against Nestlé's infant-formula marketing practices in Third World countries.

Pagan International developed a plan, code-named the "Neptune Strategy," which became an embarrassment to Shell when a copy was leaked to the press in 1987. Instead of divesting its South African holdings, the Neptune Strategy advised Shell to "develop a task force" of South Africans, church leaders, US activists and executives to issue a statement about the company's role in helping South Africa prepare for life after apartheid and to develop "post-apartheid plans" that "will ensure the continuation and growth of the Shell companies in the United States and South Africa."

To implement this plan, Pagan International organized and subsidized COSA. Launched with great fanfare in September 1987, COSA was ostensibly an organization of black clergy, which talked of ambitious plans to develop black-black business links between South Africa and the United States, promote education and training of South African blacks, and pressure for an end to apartheid. In reality, COSA was a paper front group with no resources to carry out these goals. According to Donna Katzin, a leader in the Shell boycott, COSA reflected a deliberate attempt to "divide and weaken the position of the religious community with regard to South Africa." She noted that immediately after COSA was created, companies with South African operations began to point to COSA to show that not all US church groups backed disinvestment.

Public disclosure of the Neptune Strategy prompted Shell to cancel its account with Pagan International, and company revenues plunged, leading to its eventual bankruptcy. However, company principal Jack Mongoven went on to to form his own firm, Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, in partnership with Ronald Duchin and Alvin Biscoe.

Other Resources

  • "Ex-Nestle Firm Goes Bankrupt," O'Dwyer's PR Services, November 1990, p. 1.
  • Samantha Sparks, "South Africa: US Clergy Group Linked to Shell Oil," Inter Press Service, October 7, 1987.