LAFF Society


Letter: The Ford Foundation in South Africa


To the Editor:
The three articles on The Ford Foundation in South Africa (Summer 2014) describe, in detail that I had not previously encountered, the Foundation’s pioneering grant-making during the apartheid period. Sheila McLean’s contribution is particularly important since it covers Ford’s bold venture in the public interest and human rights field at a critical time in recent South African history.
Two additional points:
One, Sheila and Bill Carmichael encountered skepticism about Ford’s making any grants of any kind in South Africa within the staff of its Africa program as well as from its officers and board. I recall a number of staff meetings in which Wil LeMelle and David Smock took the position that the apartheid government would cynically use such grants to “justify” current governmental policy: “How bad can we Afrikaaners be if we permit grants to opposition groups or individuals?” Sheila and Bill demonstrated convincingly that there were individuals and organizations in South Africa courageously fighting apartheid and that they were worthy of FF support.
Two, in its focus on the Ford Foundation’s initiative and Sheila and Bill’s leadership, there was only passing reference to other U.S. foundations that were also making cutting-edge grants in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The list includes the Kaiser Family, Kellogg, MacArthur, Mott and Rockefeller foundations, the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and I may be missing a few more.
Moreover, with the end of South Africa’s apartheid policies starting in February, 1990, the involvement of U.S. foundations in South Africa sharply increased. A study by the Foundation Center revealed that foundation giving in South Africa by 2004 totaled $32.4 billion, including more than 1,000 grants from more than 60 foundations. 
Special credit should be given to Michael Sinclair, a native South African, who organized and led the Kaiser Family Foundation’s programming. Kaiser did for the field of public-health programs and organizations in South Africa what Ford did in public-interest law and human rights, and it continued its pioneering efforts with the spread of AIDs. Equally important, Mike organized and led an influential “interest group” on South Africa for member foundations of the Council on Foundations. Jim Joseph, then the president of the Council, became the U.S. Ambassador to the new Nelson Mandela government.
In summary, the Ford Foundation initiative in South Africa was an essential part of a much larger multi-foundation effort to oppose apartheid and to deal with the oppressive social and economic conditions that it created. Take a well deserved bow, Ford Foundation, but let others join in the credit.
Will Hertz
The writer was a program officer in the Foundation’s Middle East and Africa program from 1968 to 1973 before becoming assistant secretary. After joining the Mott Foundation in 1981, he organized that foundation’s program in South Africa.
The Ford Foundation in South Africa: Part 1

The Ford Foundation in South Africa Part 1: Intro

Pioneering Human Rights by Sheila Avrin McLean

Developing Black Leadership: Fellowships are provided for emerging social scientists by David Smock

Visions of Johanna: Inside the museums, apartheid goes on trial by Gerry Salole



Members log in to comment