It is well to remember that it requires the exercise of not less ability than that which acquired the wealth, to use it so as to be really beneficial to the community. Besides this, it may fairly be said that no man is to be extolled for doing what he cannot help doing, nor is he to be thanked by the community to which he only leaves wealth at death. Men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all, had they been able to take it with them.
Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and philanthropist, in his essay ‘Wealth’, June 1889
The five men invited by Harry Oppenheimer to join him as founding Trustees were characterised by a sense of duty and loyalty to company (almost all were employees of Anglo American) and to country. In other hands, this might have presented an opportunity for manipulation of people and society, but all were known for their intellect, compassion and generosity. It was, too, a different time and place, where there was time to think and plan before acting – letters took days, even weeks – and the courtesy in the exchanges between the Trust and applicants not only reflects the depth of enquiry and discussion that preceded any grant, but also the genuine interest of the Trustees.
As a group of socially conscious businessmen, the founding Trustees were equally well respected as professionals in the worlds of mining, finance and industry as they were for championing good causes. During their tenure, they put in place policies that put people first and established a culture of flexibility that survives to this day. While undoubtedly personalities and ideas and attitudes inform its activities, the Trust has guarded its reputation for delivery, for insight, for risk-taking – and a glance at some of the subsequent appointments supports this view: Mary Slack has been unstinting in her active participation over the past forty five years, whether as Secretary, Trustee, Chair or Deputy Chair. Helen Suzman, always firm in her belief that funders of education have a critical role in the country, was appointed as a Trustee in 1975 and remained on the Board to the date of her death on 1 January 2009. Others who served over the years include GR Bozzoli, Michael O’Dowd, Charles van Onselen, Zanele Mbeki, Trish Trahar and Mamphela Ramphele. A listing of the current Trustees is contained elsewhere on this site.