Open Society Foundations Celebrate 25 Years in South Africa

CAPE TOWN—The Open Society Foundations are pleased to announce a series of celebratory events in Cape Town, from November 29 to November 30, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, part of the family of offices and foundations created by philanthropist George Soros.

Several of the events will take place at the Open Society Foundation for South Africa’s new offices in the center of Cape Town, as well as spaces around the city. On November 30, the foundation will host a public lecture at Cape Town’s City Hall, featuring Ghanaian politician Samia Nkrumah. The lecture commemorates the series of Open Society Lectures started by George Soros in 1994.

“I am delighted to celebrate this important milestone for a foundation that has special significance for me,” said Soros. “When I first came to the country nearly four decades ago, South Africa was a completely closed society. Since then, we have seen the dream of democracy take shape. I am proud of what the foundation and its grantees have achieved over the years and the work they continue to do.”

The Open Society Foundation for South Africa opened its offices in Cape Town in 1993, but Soros’s history in South Africa dates back to 1979. While the country was under apartheid, his support helped 80 black students study at the University of Cape Town. This was the start of Soros’s philanthropic journey, which has since expanded to include work in every region of the world with a total annual budget of around $1 billion.

Soros established the Open Society Foundation for South Africa on the cusp of the historic elections of 1994, which finally brought democracy to the country and paved the way for rights and freedoms to be enshrined in the Constitution. Soros had provided support for the Dakar Conference, part of a series of pivotal talks between the banned African National Congress, white politicians, and business leaders in Senegal.

Since it opened, the Open Society Foundation for South Africa has been committed to promoting the values, institutions, and practices of an open, nonracial, and anti-sexist civil society in which the rule of law and divergent opinions are respected. One of the Foundation’s first initiatives was supporting the launch of the National Urban Reconstruction and Housing Agency, which helped the newly elected government of President Nelson Mandela to address the serious need for housing, financing more than 250,000 homes in neglected and poor communities.

The president of the Open Society Foundations, Patrick Gaspard, has strong links to South Africa, having served as U.S. ambassador from 2013 to 2016. “This remarkable country was my home for three years, and I am privileged to have seen first-hand the vital work that the Open Society Foundation for South Africa has done in supporting civil society,” said Gaspard. “With its local perspective as a foundation with a South African staff and board, it has made a meaningful contribution.”

“We celebrate the Foundation’s history at a moment of great hope for this country, and I deeply believe that there is nothing wrong in South Africa that cannot be fixed by all that is right in South Africa.”

The Foundation has since invested more than 1 billion rand in South Africa over 25 years, with more than 750 grantees. Among its notable successes are its early support for more than 60 community radio stations; expanding access to essential medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS; and seed funding for the Constitutionalism Fund, South Africa Media Innovation Program, the Social Auditing Network, and Right2Know Campaign.

Fatima Hassan, executive director of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, said: “We are exceptionally proud that George Soros’s philanthropy, which eventually led to the launch of the Open Society Foundations, was born in South Africa. We are humbled by all that our grantees have achieved in the past 25 years, but it is equally important to look ahead to the next 25 years of our democracy. Our commitment is to continue to invest in our democratic ideals and in supporting a new generation of change-makers.”

More information on the Open Society Foundation for South Africa’s 25th anniversary can be found here.

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