Anonymous 11/04/2022 (Fri) 18:25 No.84749 del
Even the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust boasts about the Oppenheimer’s involvement in politics.


The Oppenheimers across three generations have played at least three significant roles in the history of SA.

The second dimension of this Oppenheimer African journey is that of active citizenship. Ernest Oppenheimer waited only a few years after his arrival on SA shores before exercising his civic duties, being elected to the Beaconsfield, and then Kimberley, town council in 1908. He spent 14 years in municipal government, rising to be mayor of Kimberley (no mean achievement for someone with German origins) before entering SA’s parliament in 1924 for a similar period. In his national politics Oppenheimer joined the SA Party, the party of Botha and Smuts – the party that sought to unite English- and Afrikaans-speaking South Africans. A more conventional choice would have been the Unionist or Dominion parties, the parties of English capitalists.

Towards the end of his life Ernest became a strong supporter of the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. This federation sought a cautious but, at least for the settler politics of the day, progressive political enfranchisement for the populations of these three countries (now Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi). The federation failed due to, among other reasons, the upwelling of white racism in then Southern Rhodesia which brought Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front to power, and led to that country’s unilateral declaration of independence .

Harry Oppenheimer entered parliament in 1948, echoing his father’s poor sense of timing (1924), each witnessing the installation of governments led by Afrikaner nationalists. He remained in parliament for a decade until Ernest’s death. Harry was as intensely interested in politics as his father. Though out of parliament by the late 1950s, Harry’s support for the 13 members of the United Party who broke away to form the timidly nonracial Progressive Party, was vital to that party’s survival through the long period from 1961 to 1974, when it had a single parliamentary representative, Helen Suzman.

Beyond his direct involvement in white party politics Oppenheimer, and the businesses he led, often provided support to South Africans who fell foul of the apartheid state. The list is a long one, from some of the accused in the Treason Trial of 1956 to Cosmas Desmond and David Adler in the 1980s.

In the 1980s, Anglo adopted a formal policy that where its employees disappeared without being charged (which usually meant political incarceration) they would remain on the payroll, with material support for their families and legal support to seek their release.

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