Harry Frederick Oppenheimer, 1908-2000


Harry Frederick Oppenheimer Harry Oppenheimer was born in Kimberley, the diamond city of South Africa, on 28 October 1908. After completing his primary schooling in Johannesburg, he attended Charterhouse school in England, before going on to study at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating in 1931 in philosophy, politics and economics.

He returned to Johannesburg to join Anglo American Corporation, the business that his father, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, had founded in 1917 and which had developed into a successful mining house. Sir Ernest had also become Chairman of De Beers in 1929 after steadily building up his interests in the diamond world. It was a testing apprenticeship. These were the years of the great depression and the Corporation was facing serious challenges largely due to the virtual paralysis of the diamond market.

After serving with the Fourth South African Corps during World War 2 in North Africa, Mr Oppenheimer became managing director of the Corporation in 1945, heading a team which had the daunting task of opening up almost simultaneously seven mines in the new Orange Free State goldfields, a greenfields project which was a hallmark of the company's enterprise in developing South Africa.

During the 1950s, as the Free State gold mines reached full production, he was involved in the expansion of Anglo American's copper mining interests in Zambia and its gold mining operations on the far west Witwatersrand. He was also involved in the foundation of the country's first merchant bank (UAL) and discount house - effectively establishing a money market in South Africa.

For almost the whole of this period he was actively immersed in politics, having been elected Member of Parliament for Kimberley in 1948. His speeches in the House were distinguished by the clarity and persuasiveness of their argument and he established himself as a respected opposition spokesman on economics, finance and constitutional affairs. After his father's death in 1957, he resigned his seat but continued to speak out authoritatively on public matters, demonstrating his clear-sightedness, moral courage and strong convictions, which he always expressed without rancour.

During the 1960s and 1970s he presided over a period of vigorous expansion in the diamond industry and De Beers and saw the emergence of Anglo American as a major international company. The Corporation continued to develop its mining, manufacturing and agricultural activities in southern Africa, while on the international front it established Charter Consolidated, the mining-industrial finance organisation based in London, and Minerals and Resources Corporation, based initially in Bermuda then in Luxembourg as Minorco, and subsequently combined with Anglo American as Anglo American plc, with its primary listing in London.

Harry Oppenheimer was the chairman of Anglo American Corporation for a quarter of a century and chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines for 27 years until he retired from those positions in 1982 and 1984 respectively. He was a member of both boards of directors from 1934, retiring from the Anglo American board after 48 years on relinquishing the chairmanship, and from the De Beers board in 1994, after serving exactly 60 years.

Mr Oppenheimer was committed to and actively participated in the field of social investment; many of the enterprises initiated by him continue to flourish today. In 1958, he established the Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Trust to handle the social responsibility projects supported by the Oppenheimer family. At Anglo American, The Chairman's Fund, established in 1973, initiates and finances projects which contribute to community development on a large scale, particularly in the arena of education. Following the Soweto riots in 1976, Mr Oppenheimer was responsible for setting up the Urban Foundation which was dedicated to improving - directly and through legislative reform - the social and industrial environment of urban black people in South Africa.

Extracted from website created by Anglo in memory of Harry Oppenheimer