Defend Truth


Foundations that support our society – from politics to grants


Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

Many political leaders around the world establish foundations in their names, especially after they have stood down from power. The purpose of these foundations is to sustain the individual’s legacy, their values and ideals in the political space, often through annual lectures, maintenance of their archives or libraries and other programmes to promote their ideals. South Africa is no different and there has been a burgeoning of foundations since 1994, reflecting the political and ideological diversity of our country. Most of the foundations have been established by leaders of the African National Congress with various objectives and are supported by an assortment of donor agencies. A few of the foundations make philanthropic grants, but most of them are essentially not philanthropic in themselves.

A number of the foundations are playing a role in the body politic – often individually and occasionally together.

The more overtly political foundations that are better known include the Thabo Mbeki Foundation which aims to be a catalyst for “the achievement of an African Renaissance”; the FW de Klerk Foundation which promotes the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law through the activities of the Centre for Constitutional Rights; the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation that “promotes the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa” with a particular focus on non-racialism; and the Helen Suzman Foundation that promotes “liberal democratic values” for which she stood. Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk personally still have a voice in relation to South Africa’s current political context, while the other foundations represent the memory and legacy of those who have passed on.

Less widely known foundations include the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation which desires to create a “more compassionate world”; the Truman Magubane Family Foundation, the Chief Albert Luthuli Foundation, the Umlambo Foundation (established by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka), the Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe Trust; the Jakes Gerwel Foundation; The Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation; and the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation.

Many of the above came together in 2016 to form the National Foundations Dialogue Initiative which encourages continuous engagement and dialogue amongst all South Africans to solve some of the country’s key problems. Its inaugural dialogue was held in May 2017 and involved three previous South African presidents, namely Mbeki, De Klerk and Motlanthe along with previous deputy president Mlambo-Ngcuka. The Initiative responds to the “national crisis” in South Africa and has a substantial voice in the political terrain.

Some foundations, particularly the Helen Suzman Foundation, have undertaken litigation in support of the South African Constitution. For example, in 2012 the Helen Suzman Foundation opposed the South African Police Service Amendment Act; in 2013 it took legal action against the Judicial Services Commission to clarify the nomination process for potential judges; in 2016 it applied to be amicus curiae in the case relating to the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who was visiting South Africa and for whom there was an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court; in November 2016 it took a case to the Pretoria High Court to compel President Jacob Zuma to suspend the National Director of Public Prosecutions pending an inquiry into his fitness to hold office and in May 2017, the foundation went to the Constitutional Court to set aside the firing of the finance minister by the President on the basis that he had violated his constitutional duties.

However, not all of the foundations are political in nature. For example, Cyril Ramaphosa has established various foundations, starting with the Adopt-A-School Foundation in 2001 which now focuses on improving the quality of facilities and education at disadvantaged schools, as well as the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust that has, since 1996, provided bursary support for needy university students. In 2016 Ramaphosa created a fully independent foundation called the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation which focuses on fostering “the development of an empowered, inclusive society” by “creating opportunities through education and enterprise development.” The foundation works with the original Adopt-A-School Foundation and another partner, Black Umbrellas, which deals with entrepreneurship, providing incubator facilities for young black business interests in the first three years of their operations. The foundation is not used as a political base for Ramaphosa’s views and prioritises education as its key objective. Cyril Ramaphosa has put some of his own private wealth into these foundations, but fund raising from other sources also takes place. For example, in October 2017 the Adopt-A-School Foundation held a fund raising event that raised R4,8-million for its programmes including the provision of science laboratories as well as for the training of science teachers.

Jacob Zuma has also set up an educational fund entitled the Jacob G Zuma Foundation and chaired by Dudu Myeni. Its intended objective is to provide bursaries at various higher education institutions and a spokesperson for Zuma, Bongani Ngqulunga, claims that the Foundation and the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Fund have provided 20,000 bursaries. When checking the foundation, its website was not functional and the Facebook page opened with a picture of the President and Ms Myeni playing a game of chess. However, there was no information about who made donations to support so many bursaries. Recently newspaper reports have indicated that students who had been promised bursary funding have been informed that the foundation no longer had the funds to meet its commitments.

Finally, South Africa has the Nelson Mandela Foundation which was established by Mandela himself to secure his legacy and to promote peace, democracy and human rights, particularly in Africa. This is largely done through dialogue on key social issues, the annual Mandela Day and the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. Importantly, the Foundation is also the custodian of Mandela’s archives and has a Centre of Memory in Johannesburg which every South African should visit. When reviewing the values and objectives of many of the foundations, the Nelson Mandela Foundation brings these together in his focus on democracy, human rights and peace. Next year, 2018 will see Nelson Mandela’s Centenary celebrations and these will, hopefully, play a role in extending Mandela’s values of constitutionalism, inclusion, and dialogue along with his dream of a truly democratic non-racial South Africa. DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.