Today, with non-racial democracy in place, Mr. Mthembu has taken the battle for black empowerment to the boardroom. As chairman-ceo of New Age Beverages, Mr. Mthembu, 40, is reintroducing Pepsi-Cola into the South African market, this time as a black-owned business.
His goal: to capture a 40% market share and entice other foreign investors to the country by setting an example of black achievement.
"I want to build a climate of hope for our people and our economic aspirations," said Mr. Mthembu. "And that means bringing up a product which says, `We don't come from the outside just to be consumed here-we are part and parcel of you.'*"
To make Pepsi the black drink of choice, the company is using advertising-billing the product as the cola for a new generation of South Africans-and new distribution tactics. The company is aiming at townships and squatter camps where most of the country's 32 million blacks-70% of cola consumers-live.
Pepsi first entered South Africa in 1948, the same year the National Party came to power. By the mid-1970s, Pepsi claimed about 35% of the carbonated soft-drink market before divesting in 1985 in response to sanctions against South Africa.
As a result, Coca-Cola today controls more than 90% of the soft drink industry.
But that hasn't stopped Mr. Mthembu. This month NAB started bottling Pepsi-Cola, Diet Pepsi, 7UP, Mirinda and Shani soft drinks for distribution here and in Pretoria. These account for more than half of the 275 million cases-or $1 billion worth-of carbonated soft drinks sold annually here.
"In the past business totally excluded blacks," said Mr. Mthembu, noting that giving drivers an investment stake, which is part of his plan, reduces the very real threat of truck hijackings in crime-ridden townships. The company is also relying on a famous black singer, Whitney Houston, to introduce Pepsi into South Africa. Ms. Houston kicked off her three-city "One South Africa Tour" Nov. 8.
She is one of more than a dozen well-known African-Americans (including actor Danny Glover and basketball star Shaquille O'Neal) in the U.S.-based partnership Egoli Beverages, a group which has jointly invested $15 million dollars in start-up capital in NAB. Currently Egoli owns 75% of NAB, with Pepsi-Cola International owning the remaining 25%. The goal is for South Africans to hold a majority stake in the business within five years.
Ms. Houston doesn't appear in Pepsi ads but her concert tour coincides with the debut of an aggressive Saatchi & Saatchi Klerck & Barrett campaign to reintroduce Pepsi as the "cool" cola of choice for South African teenagers. NAB won't discuss spending on the campaign.
Radio commercials, expected to reach 87% of the target market, deliver a catchy rap slogan, "Say it! Pepsi. The choice of a new generation," set to an industrial dance beat. Supporting billboard and newspaper ads feature young South African Pepsi drinkers of different races, wearing clothing with African motifs, and posed in confident, independent attitudes.
The ads, to be followed by TV spots early next year, are intended to show that all South African teenagers are determined to make their own choices and decisions in life.
Mr. Mthembu admits, however, that NAB's overall black empowerment message ironically has pitfalls. For example, the first delivery trucks leaving the NAB plant Nov. 4 had to run a gauntlet of several hundred angry black protesters, who accused NAB of headhunting from within the beverage industry, rather than hiring local people on a first-come, first-served basis.
"It's a disturbing indication of how desperate our people still are," said Mr. Mthembu.