Mandela honours 'monumental' Oppenheimer

Published Aug 21, 2000


Nelson Mandela has expressed sorrow at the death of Harry Oppenheimer.

"We extend our most sincere personal condolences to Bridget, Nicky, Mary and the rest of the family," said Mandela. Oppenheimer died on Saturday night.

"We know that they will derive strength from the sure knowledge that millions of South Africans share in their sense of loss today," said Mandela.

"We join with those millions of our compatriots who mourn with the family and hail a person who was monumentally instrumental in helping this country to be the economic leader it is today.

"His support for democratic and philanthropic causes was in my experience always without hesitation and reserve. His contribution to building partnership between big business and the new democratic government in that first period of democratic rule can never be appreciated too much.

"The preamble to our finding constitution speaks of honouring those who suffered for justice and freedom in our country and respecting those who have worked to build and develop our country. Chief among the latter must stand Harry Oppenheimer and his family."

President Thabo Mbeki described Oppenheimer as "ever the gentleman and a man of deep conviction and compassion" and praised him for the work he bequeathed to South Africa.

Mbeki said Oppenheimer played a seminal role in the industrialisation of South Africa over a period spanning most of the 20th century.

"Through his work he bequeathed to our country, not only an industrial empire spanning the width and breadth of Africa and the world, but also major legacies in the fields of education, the arts and community development."

Mbeki also said that it was a little known fact that Oppenheimer was one of the pioneers of reconciliation in South Africa.

Sir Ketumile Masire, a former president of Botswana, commented: "He was a businessman, but a businessman with a heart, he did not only look at how much money he would make."

Anglo American chairperson Julian Ogilvy-Thompson said few people wielded power as gracefully as the tycoon.

"Never dictatorial, his style rather was one of rational argument and persuasion, and his influence on the course of politics in South Africa, as well as business, was as remarkable as it was pervasive," said Ogilvy-Thompson.

Oppenheimer consistently questioned apartheid and ensured the voice of liberalism continued to be heard.

Helen Suzman, a fellow MP, said: "I have lost a great friend and an advisor and South Africa has lost a great patriot and benefactor.

"Harry had a deep and immense understanding of the problems of this country and he expressed his sympathy for those less fortunate than himself.

"In politics, he was a concerned liberal democrat and he never hesitated to express his beliefs, irrespective of their reception in hostile political circles"

"When we left the UP to form the Progressive Party he became the founder member and remained a firm supporter throughout the following decades," said Suzman.

Suzman's former colleague Colin Eglin said: "Harry O was a man of many parts. But parts that formed a superbly integrated whole. He was a truly great South African, and a wonderful human being. I had the privilege of enjoying his friendship and of enjoying his wise counsel and loyal support over many turbulent years in South African politics."

Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel said: "Mr Oppenheimer pioneered the economic expansion from the mining to manufacturing industries that became so crucial for South Africa's growth.

"Although he had long had business interests around the world, Mr Oppenheimer was a both a committed and quintessential South African. Although his businesses spanned the world, he chose to live out his own life here, on African soil," said Manuel.

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