The Trust’s engagement with South African society continued to grow. Travelling Fellowships were reintroduced and funding was given to set up and run the New Era Schools Trust (NEST). These non-racial private schools, undoubtedly seen as a social experiment, were described as “A training in citizenship.” Change was in the air.

Much of the correspondence reflects not only the exigencies and events of the times, the dignity and humility of the applicants, but also the immediate responsiveness of the Trust. In 1980, C.M. Koza, then Principal of the Inanda Seminary in Kwa Mashu, the only registered private school for African girls in South Africa (founded in 1869 by American missionary Mary Edwards), wrote to the Trust as follows: “You made my day a wonderful one yesterday when I opened your letter. I am more than grateful that you have responded to this project. To be honest, I had already misappropriated a fund from Bread for the World and started on the fence. The matter became more and more urgent when two men were collected at our gate by police who later appeared in newspapers as terrorists arrested near Durban. I do not know where they came from and how police trailed them until we witnessed the drama of their arrest. The police have refused to give information and we find it hard to explain their presence and the purpose of their visit. It became imperative to put up a fence immediately and we started at once. But I have had sleepless nights wondering how I shall ever refund this amount.” The fence and gate were built as requested to secure the safety of the learners at Inanda; the money was refunded to Bread for the World; the fate of the two arrested men is unknown. Mrs. Koza later wrote commending the Trust’s commitment to change: “This change cannot take place without much effort being put into the education of the black child. The Inanda Seminary is in the vanguard of the type of education that helps our students to find themselves as they are groomed as a whole person.” The Trust went on to fund the construction of new dormitories at the Seminary.

And there were more amazing people …pioneers, doing work that collectively made a huge difference. The Trust once again demonstrated its insights and acute sense of what was needed. Loueen Everil de Jager, lecturer and organiser of the University Diploma in Nursing Education at the University of Natal was running the only training course, in 1981, for black nurses. She secured support to do a Doctorate in Nursing Education at the University of Port Elizabeth, conducting a review of available nursing education courses and comparing these with courses in Britain, the USA and Australia. Her aim, practical and commendable, was to prepare a new generation of educators for nurses in South Africa. “Please convey my most grateful thanks to the Board,” she wrote. “Without this assistance I would not have been able to continue as, except for R400,00 from the Nurses’ Association, I have not been able to obtain grants.” Subsequent support for a trip to the USA and Australia was forthcoming, to gather further information. Professor Mellish of the University of Natal was adamant: “…her research regarding the preparation of nurse educators is of vital concern to all those who are involved in nursing education in this country.”

The Trust recorded a footnote – “We agree.” Another innovator was Professor Brian Figaji, a professional engineer who entered the educational environment at Pentech as a Head of Department. In this role for 8 years, he found himself positioned as
the intermediary between students and staff; staff and management; students and management. “I wanted theoretical training – I saw my experience as insufficient for my role as manager and educational innovator. I wanted a non-South African perspective on resolving conflict.” He was, in 1988, awarded a scholarship to the Education Faculty at Harvard University in the States, effectively the answer to his dream – “…to be a person creating an academic environment in which students feel free to express themselves and one which will empower them to manage their own learning.” The scholarship targeted mid-career candidates with leadership potential who could contribute to the management of higher education in South Africa, and would allow Figaji to enter the Education Masters Programme in Administration, Planning and Social Policy. He found himself in a situation common to many before him, where family commitments precluded a lengthy absence. “I was at the point where I had to turn down the scholarship and allow my dreams to remain just that, dreams.” Financial support from the Trust made the difference and enabled him to accept this opportunity accompanied by his family. This, he believes, contributed to his peace of mind which led to outstanding academic performance and provided an unforgettable and enriching experience for his wife and two children. He believes that the Trust should share its model and experience with other South African companies, “…so that philanthropy can become more personalised, enlightened and less criteria based. Too often companies design the criteria and the rules and then only consider those applicants that match the criteria. I am sure that had the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust adopted this stance then a 45 year old mid-career person like myself would have been found to be too old for consideration, already sufficiently established in a job, and hence not in need of any further educational opportunity.” Declining a further US scholarship to study for his PhD, Figaji returned to South Africa to apply his skills and honour his own commitment to society. “I am very indebted to the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust for making this investment in my life. It enabled me to become the Vice-Chancellor of a higher education institution and to play a significant role in contributing to the shaping of the higher education landscape in South Africa.”

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The Trust’s engagement with South African society continued to grow. Change was in the air. Travelling Fellowships were reintroduced and funding was given to set up and run the New Era Schools Trust (NEST). These non-racial private schools, undoubtedly seen as a social experiment, were described as ‘training in citizenship’.

Much of the correspondence reflected not only the exigencies of the times, and the dignity and humility of the applicants, but also the immediate responsiveness of the Trust. In 1980, C.M. Koza, then Principal of the Inanda Seminary in Kwa Mashu, the only registered private school for African girls in South Africa, founded in 1869, wrote to the Trust to ask for help in equipping the property with a fence, as security for the learners and institution was imperative. The fence and gate were built as requested to secure the safety of the learners at Inanda. The Trust went on to fund the construction of new dormitories at the Seminary. Mrs. Koza responded graciously, and later wrote commending the Trust’s commitment to change:

“This change cannot take place without much effort being put into the education of the black child. The Inanda Seminary is in the vanguard of the type of education that helps our students to find themselves, as they are groomed as a whole person.”

The 1980s brought even more amazing people, pioneers doing work that collectively made a dramatic difference. Once again the Trust demonstrated its insights and acute sense of what was needed. In 1981 Loueen Everil de Jager, lecturer and organiser of the University Diploma in Nursing Education at the University of Natal, was running the only training course for black nurses. She secured support to do a Doctorate in Nursing Education at the University of Port Elizabeth. Her aim, practical and commendable, was to prepare a new generation of educators for nurses in South Africa. “Please convey my most grateful thanks to the Board,” she wrote, “Without this assistance I would not have been able to continue as, except for R400 from the Nurses’ Association, I have not been able to obtain grants.” Subsequent support for a trip to the US and Australia was forthcoming, to gather further information. Professor Mellish of the University of Natal was adamant that de Jager’s research regarding the preparation of nurse educators was of vital concern to all those who are involved in nursing education in this country. The Trust recorded a footnote: “We agree”.

 Another innovator was Professor Brian Figaji, a professional engineer who entered the educational environment at Pentech as a Head of Department. While in this role for 8 years, he found himself positioned as the intermediary between students and staff, staff and management, students and management. “I wanted theoretical training. I saw my experience as insufficient for my role as manager and educational innovator. I wanted a non-South African perspective on resolving conflict.” He was, in 1988, awarded a scholarship to the Education Faculty at Harvard University in the States, to enter the Education Masters Programme in Administration, Planning and Social Policy, effectively the answer to his dream: “To be a person creating an academic environment in which students feel free to express themselves and one which will empower them to manage their own learning.” The scholarship targeted mid-career candidates with leadership potential who could contribute to the management of higher education in South Africa, and would allow Figaji to enter the Education Master’s Programme in Administration, Planning and Social Policy. He found himself in a situation common to many before him, where family commitments precluded a lengthy absence. “I was at the point where I had to turn down the scholarship and allow my dreams to remain just that, dreams.” Financial support from the Trust made the difference and enabled him to accept this opportunity accompanied by his family. He believes this contributed to his peace of mind, which led to outstanding academic performance and provided an enriching experience for his wife and two children. This, he believes, contributed to his peace of mind which led to outstanding academic performance and provided an unforgettable and enriching experience for his wife and two children. He believes that the Trust should share its model and experience with other South African companies, “… so that philanthropy can become more personalised, enlightened and less criteria based. Too often companies design the criteria and the rules and then only consider those applicants that match the criteria. I am sure that had the OMT adopted this stance then a 45 year old mid-career person like myself would have been found to be too old for consideration, already sufficiently established in a job, and hence not in need of any further educational opportunity.” Declining a further US scholarship to study for his PhD, Figaji returned to South Africa to apply his skills and honour his own commitment to society. “I am very indebted to the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust for making this investment in my life. It enabled me to become the Vice-Chancellor of a higher education institution and to play a significant role in contributing to the shaping of the higher education landscape in South Africa.”