At Nation Builder’s In Good Company 2017 conference, Paul Pereira, editor at CSI communications hub WHAM! Media, described how Anglo American created and defined CSI, how this later spread across our private sector, and then went global. The following is a summary of his talk.
For formal CSI, we must go back to the second year of De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1889 Kimberley, and its
annual report that same year, in which chairman Cecil John Rhodes argued the case for philanthropy being part and parcel of the company’s duty. The Anglo American Corporation, founded in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer, started its community giving two years later to help assuage the devastating Spanish Flu.
It would be through what was the Anglo American Corporation (for most of its life incorporating De Beers) that the defining choices would be made about how South Africa’s private sector should behave in relation to broader society – especially towards those excluded in our long night of apartheid.
Like all private sector companies, especially in mining and agriculture, Anglo American benefited from migrant labour law and included some labour practices that were, to today’s eyes, dodgy.
Benefiting from the flexibility of movement that came with it enjoying enlightened leadership in the Oppenheimer owner/management set- up, Anglo American nevertheless also made some extraordinary decisions that went beyond its immediate business concerns or interests. It did so in speaking to a duty to a broader South Africanism that was in direct conflict with the ruling politics of the time.
Oppenheimer defines and acts on Anglo American’s social purpose
In 1954 Sir Ernest Oppenheimer defined Anglo American’s purpose:
The scale of this commitment became stunningly clear in 1956 when armed police descended in their hundreds on Johannesburg’s black residential area of Sophiatown, tearing down and levelling the entire suburb (to be renamed ‘Triomf’). Subsequently, Oppenheimer provided finance for the building of 15 000 new houses in the fledgling urban black settlement south west of the city; the start of Orlando in Soweto.
The Treason Trial, also in the 1950s, saw Anglo put all the trialists onto the company payroll, helping their families to survive the ordeal economically.
Through the apartheid years, Anglo published its Chairman’s Statement annually across the media; double-page spreads that dealt hardly at all with the company’s fortunes, and rather dwelt on the local political and economic crisis, with calls for reform and specific suggestions. It became a sort of alternative state of the nation address.
The English press were supported, bought, and secured for opposition voices, which were kept alive in other ways too, most notably through the financial and other support given to the liberal Progressive Party for its entire existence, forerunner of today’s official opposition Democratic Alliance.
The premier anti-apartheid research house, the SA Institute of Race Relations, received substantial support and,
with the collaboration of others in the private sector, the Urban Foundation was set up in 1977 to work on township development in areas regarded by government as temporary localities.
Anglo’s setting up in 1976, under Stellenbosch Professor S P Cilliers of the Institute for Industrial Relations, began the professionalisation of industrial relations in South Africa and, importantly, did so with trustees drawn from both employer and employee trade union ranks.
Indeed, years before the Wiehahn Commission’s liberalisation of black trade union activity, Anglo’s Harry Oppenheimer was calling on business to simply recognise and negotiate with black trade unions. When it was set up in the early 1980s, the National Union of Mineworkers found itself with offices provided by Anglo American.
Intertwined with all these choices – for you cannot properly separate it out – was Anglo’s corporate social investment work, which formed the basis of what we do in that arena across the South African business community today. This started ramping up in the 1950s with the formation of a Chairman’s Fund, followed by a decision in the early 60s, remarkable for its time, that at least half of the company’s social spend should directly benefit black people.
How Anglo American formalised South African CSI
In 1974, a momentous decision was made that would shape South African CSI as we know it today.
Uniquely among South African companies, Anglo created a formal, well-resourced department, headed by a person with executive rank, to develop and carry out social investments across the country. Led by Michael O’Dowd, the Anglo American and De Beers Chairman’s Fund saw the start of a massive infrastructure development rollout called the Rural Schools Programme, which exists to this day. It established thousands of welfare, educational and agricultural activities across southern Africa.
Later headed by the intellectually and ethically superb Margie Keeton, the Anglo American and De Beers Chairman’s Fund became a stand-alone in the country, and moreover developed what became a uniquely relevant South African approach to best practice CSI operating systems, philosophies, and community partnership protocols. This then evolved into Tshikululu Social Investments, expanding significantly this past decade under Tracey Henry, another from that original, remarkable CSI team at Anglo American.
SA’s now-ubiquitous Anglo CSI model may also be at work in more than 40 countries today – South African mining’s unique gift to humanity.