Donaldson Trust

Donaldson Trust History

The Donaldson Trust was started in response to the draft bill of the Hertzog Government in 1935 which sought to deprive black Africans of the vote in the Cape Province. The founder, Lieutenant Colonel James Donaldson D.S.O., gave £500 to a delegation of leaders from the all-African Convention to enable them to go to Cape Town to lobby MPs and rouse public opinion.
They were so successful that the bill was withdrawn. Unfortunately, however, it was reintroduced in 1936 and passed in a modified form whereby the black African voters retained their vote but could only vote for a white representative.
The Colonel, on the advice of his friend, John Lawton Hardy from the South African Institute of Race Relations, decided that year to form a trust which he named the Bantu Welfare Trust, (the term 'bantu' being at the time a form of address conveying both dignity and respect). He was horribly disillusioned by what he felt to be the betrayal of the black African voters.
From its inception his board of trustees was fully representative. The objects of the trust were 'the advancement of the status, the improvement of the conditions, and the removal of the disabilities now suffered by the African population of South Africa, and generally to seek their benefit and betterment'.

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Lieutenant Colonel James Donaldson D.S.O.


The original capital donated by the Colonel was £50 000. Prime Minister General Smuts agreed to be the honoury patron. Initially the trust concentrated its financial support on the South Institute of Race Relations and on the University of Fort Hare. Both were ideally suited to furthering the trust`s purpose; the Institute by the legal and investigative work by which it was promoting a more enlightened policy towards the black African population and Fort Hare because it had been acknowledged as the 'the greatest centre of black higher education in Southern and Eastern Africa'.
The Colonel was particularly interested in Fort Hare because it was where he had found refuge in the days of the Lovedale mission. Not surprisingly, two of the trust`s first trustees were drawn from Fort Hare, Dr Alexander Kerr (the first principal) and Professor D D T Jabavu. Another two trustees were drawn from the institute; Senator J D Rheinallt Jones and John Lawton Hardy. The only other trustees on the original board were Abner Mtimkulu of the Methodist Church and the Colonel himself.

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Prime Minister and honorary patron General Jan Smuts and Deputy Prime Minister and trustee Jan Hofmeyr.

Later trustees included Richard Victor Selope Thema (Editor of Bantu World), Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma (President of the African National Congress), Jan H Hofmeyr M P, Ian S Haggie (Haggie Rand), P R Mosaka, and Patrick Lewis (Mayor of Johannesburg). 
The relationship with Fort Hare continued until the end of the 1950`s, when it became apparent that the university was going to be incorporated into the apartheid government`s educational structure. As late as 1958, the trust was invited to nominate five people for election as donor representatives on the governing council: Dr Xuma was elected, but in August 1959 he informed his fellow trustees that the university’s last meeting under the existing constitution would take place in the November of that year and he recommended that the trust suspend further support until government clarified its policy.

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Trustee and editor of Bantu World Mr Richard Victor Selope Thema.

The support which the trust had provided over the intervening years included scholarships, donations for library equipment and contributions to buildings, particularly the women`s hostel and the Donaldson Wing of the Stewart Hall, the foundation stone of which was laid by the Colonel on the 19th September 1946.
The relationship with the Institute of Race Relations has continued up until today. (The Donaldson Trust and the Institute of Race Relations launched the controversial book People’s War by Anthea Jeffery in 2009.) Their similarity in outlook meant that they often shared initiatives. The Institute anticipated a burgeoning of black African literary writing to which it hoped to give added stimulus by staging two conferences on black African authors with financial assistance from the trust. Another joint effort was a national conference on literacy which led to the establishment of the Bureau of Literacy and Literature which the trust continued to support for many years.


The University of Fort Hare.

The Institute acted as secretaries from its inception until 1983, and it administered the trust`s bursary scheme which involved the granting of student loans and which, during the Apartheid era, also involved providing bank guarantees to government to cover black Africans studying abroad. The bursary scheme was phased out in the early 1990.

Among the many inequalities which the Colonel, sought to rectify was the inequality of wages. He wrote “I am of the opinion that the whole profitable economic development of the Union has been made possible only by the underpaid labour of its native black people, and that their share of the benefits which have been, and are being distributed, is entirely incommensurate with the contribution which they have made towards getting them. I feel that the difficulties of harmonizing relationships between the two races at very unequal levels of education and civilization have been increased by the harsh legislative and administrative measures adopted by the ruling authorities in their dealings with the Bantu, which have resulted in the conditions under which the Bantu people live, particularly in towns, are seriously affecting their health and physical stamina and are increasing their poverty and misery.


These circumstances may result in a rapid and alarming growth among the Bantu people of a sense of being unjustly treated, and of antagonism to the ruling race unless conditions are altered for the better and quickly.” For him it was important for the black Africans to have a fair wage as it was for them to have political rights, and very early on in its existence (1938) the trust began to subsidize the organization of African trade unions. I
n 1940, in response to a plea from Professor Jabavu, it also started to give support to political organizations such as the African National Congress and to the All-African Convention. The support for the trade union movement was done through the Transvaal Council of Non-European Trade Unions. In 1947 the trust purchasing a site in Ophirton, Johannesburg where it built a meeting place for the various unions.Of the fifty affiliated unions, however, twenty three broke away to form the African Council of Trade Unions and the scheme had to be abandoned.

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Living conditions in the mine hostels.

Non-the-less the support continued long after the death of the Colonel, rounding off in the late 1970`s when union staff were given bursaries for management courses at Wits Business School.The support for political organizations was not the only way in which the trust sought to obtain the political rights for which it was fighting. The Colonel wanted a more active participation.

After learning from Dr Alexander Kerr that none of the Fort Hare students applying for a Rhodes Scholarship had been successful, he wrote to the Rhodes Foundation wanting to know if there was a colour bar contained in the conditions of the scholarship. He received a reply assuring him that there was not. Similarly he championed an application for funds to publish a church newspaper for black African readers which had been turned down because there were no black Africans on the church`s editorial board. But where his consistency was most apparent was in his unremitting challenges to government to adopt a more accommodating policy towards black African representation.

He was acutely aware that the black African majority had patently unequal representation in parliament but he was assured that this had already been referred to the Institute of Race Relations and would be dealt with at a conference later on in the year. He advocated direct black African representation on town councils but was informed that there was a government commission which was gathering evidence and would report back.


The colonel also fought to have the pass laws abolished but was told that nothing could be done pending the report of the Fagan Commission. The commission was expected to advocate sweeping reforms and was headed by Ellison Kahn of the Institute of Race Relations (later President of the Institute) and included a very youthful Helen Suzman. He also played a leading role in the proposed incorporation of the mandated territory of South West Africa into the Union of South Africa This had been discussed in the United Nations Organization in January 1946 and the colonel wanted to send a delegation to South West Africa in order to ascertain the views of the black African population on the incorporation. He had discussed this with the director of Race Relations who had told him that he too had wanted to send a delegation with the idea of collecting information on the proposal to be published in a pamphlet, and that the Administrator of the Territory had already given his approval subject to the delegation not going before the Government`s consultation with the tribes had been completed in April.

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Political activist and leader of the Progressive Federal Party Mrs Helen Suzman.

With the Administrator`s agreement the director of the Institute had written to the Union Prime Minister (General Smuts) who had written back explaining that he was bringing the question of South West Africa before a United Nations meeting in the September of that year and that he believed it was likely to cause confusion if a delegation was making non-official enquiries at the same time as government`s official consultations.
He had added that Lord Hailey, the British Government representative and chairman of the Committee on Post-War Problems in the Colonies, had also suggested visiting the territory but that until the United Nations meeting had taken place, he would like all visits to be postponed.The Institute had decided therefore not to send a delegation, but the Colonel considered that the Union had an obligation to promote the welfare of all sections of the population, and so in the March of that year, the trust resolved to send a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hofmeyr (a member of the trust) asking him whether he felt that the delegation should still go despite General Smut`s request.

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Map of Southern Africa 1946.

The director of the Institute still wanted to go in order to obtain information for his pamphlet and so both he and the Colonel wrote again to Hofmeyr. Finding that even he was unable to help, the director published the pamphlet regardless and the Colonel sent a copy to all the principal delegates of the General Assembly of UNO and to organizations interested in the welfare of black Africans in South West Africa. When the UNO meeting took place the proposal was turned down but the South African Government was clearly unwilling to abide by the decision and so, since the Colonel still wanted to gauge black African opinion on incorporation, and since the Institute still wanted to send a delegation to the territory, he agreed to support it.

The delegation was to consist of three members; the Colonel, another trustee and black African, Mr P R Mosaka, a member of the Natives Representative Council and Mrs Margaret Ballinger a well known campaigner for African rights. However, a letter was received from General Smuts stating that Mr Mosaka had been refused entry to South West Africa - no reason was given.

The trustees resolved that the Prime Minister should be asked to advance the reasons for this refusal and also whether another black African would be permitted to go in his place. And the director of the Institute met with Hofmeyr who told him that he had approved the delegation and that, although he regretted very much that Mosaka had been refused permission to accompany it, he advised against insisting that Mosaka go in case it antagonized the administration. The Colonel`s response was that his main purpose of sending a delegation to South West Africa was to advise the black Africans there to oppose incorporation of their country with South Africa unless they were granted suitable representation in parliament.


He argued that if the delegation did not include a black African member it would receive very little cooperation and there would be no point in sending it. Mosaka and Xuma agreed with him and the idea of the delegation was abandoned.

In the adjoining British Protectorate of Bechuanaland (now Botswana) the Colonel was trying to secure something more than basic political rights. He wanted to have a mineral survey done of the whole Protectorate. He, Rheinallt Jones of the Institute and Dr Ray Phillips, another trustee, discussed this with the Regent, Chief Tshekedi Khama, who welcomed the idea and said that mineral and industrial development was essential for welfare of his country.

The trustees agreed that, in the event of the trust financing the survey, the trust`s only claim would be for the costs involved, and Rheinallt Jones agreed to explore the possibilities and also to interview the British High Commissioner, Sir Evelyn Baring.The Colonel wrote again to Chief Tshekedi Khama, and also to the Resident Commissioner of Basutoland (now Lesotho) regarding the possibility of a mineral survey of that country as well. It was estimated that these surveys might cost anything up to £50 000, and one of the trustees, Mr G H R Edmunds (chairman of the Standard Bank) offered to discuss this aspect with Sir Ernest Oppenheimer. The Basutoland Government replied to the Colonel`s letter informing him that a mineral survey could not be permitted. The response from Bechuanaland, however, was still favourable.

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Chief and Regent Tshekedi Khama of Bechuanaland.

Rheinallt Jones was not able to see Sir Evelyn Baring immediately but he did see a Mr Priestman of the High Commissioner`s office who gave him a sympathetic hearing and told him that a geologist from the colonial office was at present in South Africa for a water survey and that this might make cooperation with the trust feasible. Mr Priestman discussed the matter with the Resident Commissioner who was in favour of the survey and promised to consult with the geologist whom the Imperial Government had sent on loan to the territory.

In reply to a letter from the Colonel, the Resident Commissioner assured him that the High Commissioner was interested in his proposed survey and wanted to meet him personally. Before any meeting took place, however, the Colonel wanted to satisfy himself regarding the ownership of the mineral rights because the purpose of the survey was benefit the black African inhabitants. When the meeting did take place, the High Commissioner said that it might not be necessary for the trust to undertake the survey as there was the likelihood of this being done by the British Government. He did promise to submit a report to the trust on the outcome of future discussions, but these were protracted and the matter was eventually overtaking by events, namely the death of the Colonel and, also the advent of the apartheid government.


Apart from its political objectives the trust paid a lot of attention to education. The Colonel, who attributed much of his success to the sound education which he had received at the Scottish Orphans which he had attended, was a firm believer in education, and especially the vocational education that went beyond the basic standard education to which black African students seemed limited at the time.
Before 1940, for black African medical students to receive a full medical training they would have to go abroad, but in that year the trust guaranteed the funds necessary for them to receive the extra clinical instruction which they needed from Wits University. It also helped the first black African engineering students attend Wits University and was involved from the outset in motivating the technical college in Johannesburg to present the first course for black African sanitary inspectors. It subsidized black African article clerks and canvassed law firms to admit them. Besides it support for black African writers it gave Adams College in Natal a grant to establish an African National School of Music.

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The standard of black African educated was limited.


The trust also gave an annual grant to the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work.This investment in education was to equip students to embark upon career paths more suited to their aspirations and talents. But the need for better basic education was not overlooked. The trust subsidized the first breeze-block schools in Soweto and paid part of the teachers’ salaries until they were taken over efficiently. It also built cottages to house teachers.Coupled with this emphasis on education was a concern for the youth.
In 1943 the Colonel wrote to the Johannesburg Municipality proposing the establishment of a youth centre. The offer was accepted and the council agreed to erect buildings up to the value of £5 000 on a site in Orlando which was partially occupied by the Leake Hall. The agreement was that the buildings would remain the property of the council but would be placed of the disposal of a committee composed of the Government Department of Social Welfare and the trust who would jointly finance the running costs.

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Social activist Mr Jan Hofmeyr.


Both the suburb of Orlando and the Leake Hall were named after Edwin Orlando Leake, who was mayor of Johannesburg in 1925/6 and a city councillor. As chairman of the committee to administer the ever-increasing black African population which was building up to the south west of Johannesburg at Klipspruit (now renamed Pimville after Howard Pim of the Institute of Race Relations), he was responsible for the establishment of Orlando, which was the first properly laid out suburb in what later became Soweto. Today it is known as Orlando East because the 2 500 acres on which it was originally laid out proved to be inadequate and it expanded westwards into what is now Orlando West.
Leake Hall was built buy Orlando Leake and, as the first community hall in the first suburb of early Soweto, it was an important building. It was officially opened, in 1932, by the Governer General of SA, the Earl of Clarendon, but it was not very big and only occupied a small portion of the ground allocated to it, so there was room enough to develop the envisaged youth centre.
The municipality duly confirmed that it had voted the full £5 000 for the erection of a building, and not long afterwards Rheinhallt Jones reported that the Department of Social Welfare was also prepared to contribute but that it was urging that a large scheme for a community centre be embarked upon.

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Orlando East today.

A committee was set up consisting of the Colonel, one representative each from the Department of Social Welfare and from the municipality, and Rheinhallt Jones representing the Institute of Race Relations. At its first meeting it arranged that Major Hogan from the municipality do an assessment and make recommendations for the furtherance of the scheme.Major Hogan was employed to do all the preliminary work which the scheme entailed. A full-time secretary/organizer, Mr S Ntombela was also appointed. A voluntary working committee was formed with Colonel Armitage as chairman.

The Department of Social Welfare and the municipality were asked to appoint representatives to the board of the centre and a constitution was drawn up. The name agreed upon was the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre (D.O.C.C.). The Minister of the Department for Social Welfare approved the appointment of Lady Albu as the department’s representative on the board of management and the Secretary for Social Welfare as its representative the board of trustees. The trust`s representative on the centre’s board of trustees were Richard Victor Selope Thema and Rheinhallt Jones. The Department for Social Welfare wanted an assurance from the municipality that, should the building not continue to be used for the purpose of the centre, its capital would be refunded.

The trust was in the same position but it decided against pressing for an assurance for fear of prejudicing the centre’s chances of future support from the municipality. It decided instead, to ask for an assurance form the board of trustees of the centre that, should the centre cease to be used as such, they would refund the trust any moneys received by them from the municipality in compensation.


By the end of 1946 the constitution of the centre was signed and negotiations were concluded with the trustees of Leake Hall whereby control of the hall would pass to the board of the centre and the hall itself would be incorporated into the structure of the completed building, which it was, becoming a gymnasium in which a host of famous boxers did their training, in company with, at one time, a young amateur called Nelson Mandela. Building then proceeded.
The municipality confirmed that it had increased its grant from £5 000 to £10 000, but it was unable to make any payment until 1948, and the Department of Social Welfare confirmed that it would match the trust’s contribution on a pound for pound basis but it would only do so after the initial expenditure had been incurred. As a result the trust had to pay for everything, including furniture and equipment, and hope to be reimbursed at a later stage.The foundation stone was laid on the 10th January 1948 and the official opening ceremony took place on the 11th December of that same year.
The Colonel attended the trustees meeting on the 3rd December but then went into hospital for an operation. He nonetheless discharged himself in order to attend the ceremony but then went straight back to hospital where he died sixteen days later on the 27th December 1948.
The death of the Colonel was a serious check for the trust. At one stage he was determined to distribute the entire capital before he died. His reason was that the whole purpose of the trust was to ensure greater black African participation in the political and economic life of the country: once that objective had been achieved the rest would follow.

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Former President Nelson Mandela boxing at the D.O.C.C.


But, after being confronted with the multiplicity of the problems and their extent and complexity, he concluded that the solution would require time and patience as well as money, so he changed his mind. Since then his donations to capital had reached £180 000 and the trust was funding a number of small black African welfare organizations but was also committed to some big projects, notably the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre, the Trade Union Centre in Ophirton, and the Donaldson Wing of the Stewart Hall at Fort Hare for which he laid the foundation stone on the 19th September 1946.


There was, ostensibly, no reason for the trust not to continue as before after the Colonel had died: his readiness to augment the capital would be missed, and so too would his readiness to challenge government and government representatives on any issue affecting the rights of black Africans and their welfare. He had also built up the capital to an effective level, and his fellow trustees were all men of calibre, all capable, and all equally committed.


The immediate problem lay in that government was claiming Succession Duty, which was a claim on a percentage of the capital and was difficult to pay; the trust’s capital was tied up in a large industrial company on the West Rand called Superconcrete Pipes Ltd which, although a public company, was not quoted, so that there was no ready market for the shares, which meant that the necessary capital would have to be raised mainly through dividends and that the grants would have to be severely curtailed.


A far more serious setback for the trust however, was the unexpected victory of the pro-Apartheid, National Party in the 1948 elections. Great hopes had been placed on Fagan Commission which had been set up at the end of 1946 by the Smuts Government to investigate the rapid increase in black African migration into urban areas during World War II, and to make recommendations on the feasibility of a more liberal application of the strict migratory laws of the time. In February 1948, just three months before the elections, the commission presented its findings which were that the black African migration into the urban areas was irreversible and should be facilitated rather than discouraged, that the “pass laws” should be applied more leniently, and that black African women should be allowed to join their spouses in urban settlements.


These findings boded well for all those who hoped that a return to power of General Smuts and his liberal minded and eminently capable deputy, J H Homeyr, would usher in a new era that would set the country on the road to integration. The reaction, however, from the opposition party, which was committed to segregation, was to set up a rival commission, the Sauer Commission, which made recommendations that were completely opposite to those of the Fagan Commission, and, in the process coining the word “apartheid”.


There was an enormous difference between the two commissions. The Fagan Commission was charged by government to do a thorough examination of all the relevant facts and report back with impartial recommendations. Its chairman, Judge Henry Allan Fagan, was appointed a judge in 1943 and, in later years, from 1957 until his retirement in 1959, he was Chief Justice of South Africa. He also became an eminent writer in Afrikaans, winning the Hertzog prize for literature and writing several successful plays and novels. And he invented an improved system of shorthand. He had, at one stage, been a member of the Hertzog Government and was not known to be particularly liberal, but he had been appointed chairman of the commission, not because of his political leanings, but because, as a judge, he could be expected to give a report that was factual and dispassionate.


The Sauer Commission, on the other hand, was set up by a political party. It was headed by Paul Sauer, a politician and leading member of the opposition, and his brief was to find whatever arguments he could to contradict the findings of the Fagan Commission. He could be expected to produce a report that was aimed at accommodating the fears and prejudices of the mass of opposition supporters who were as determined as their leaders not to make any concession.


The defeat of the Smuts Government in May 1948 sounded the death knell of all the hopes and expectations that were vested in the Fagan Commission. Its recommendations had already been made to parliament, but now they were valueless, and all the carefully laid plans, the years of patient negotiation, all that those dedicated to reform had striven so hard to archive, all the reforms that had been proposed (and accepted), were dismissed with a smirk by the new, apartheid government whose avowed intention was to reverse any equality progress.


The immediate effect was shock; followed by trepidation and speculation. And then came the shock news of J H Hofmeyr’s death on 3rd December in that same year. Jan Hofmeyr’s moral support had been invaluable. In the Smuts Government he had, at the same time, been Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Education and Minister of Finance. He was the trust’s friend in government and had been with the trust in spirit from before his acceptance of trusteeship in August 1940. For the trustees, the loss of both he and the Colonel within a space of two weeks, in the aftermath of the Apartheid Party’s victory, was a powerful blow. It was not long before they had a foretaste of the crippling effect that apartheid policy was going to have not on their future but on their past, activities. The first casualty was the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre (DOCC).


Government had agreed that the cost of running the centre would be shared equally between the trust and itself, but, because the new apartheid government was firmly committed to reversing the flow of black Africans into the towns so it reneged on the agreement. Instead it proposed that the centre be used as a pass-office.This suggestion was so crass that one can only wonder whether it was made in ignorance of how offensive it would be to the population of Orlando, or whether it was made deliberately to demonstrate the new government`s contempt for equality.
Either way the result was the same: the centre was going to get no money whatsoever from government. And, since the trust was financially incapacitated until it had paid off Succession Duty, this meant that the trustees had to look for some organization that was willing and financially strong enough, to take over the running of the centre. Toc-H, an international organization with whom the trust had been working was appointed and ran the centre until 1960 when occupation was handed over to the Orlando YMCA who are running it today.

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Pass law protest.

During the intervening years the centre went through a tough time financially, with much of the equipment which the Colonel had put in, including billiard tables, being sold to defray expenses. But the community it served regarded it as their own, and despite the lack of government support, or perhaps because of it, the centre grew in popularity and became the hub of community life in Orlando. It was home to the Orlando Pirates Football Club for many years, and was the training ground for many of the country’s top dancers and boxers. It was the venue for any number of activities, and events were held there such as beauty competitions, talent contests, plays, meetings, church services and even funerals. Some of its famous personalities include Miriam Makeba and Brenda Fassie

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 D.O.C.C. regulars, pop diva Brenda Fassie and Mama Africa herself Miriam Makeba.


Political meetings were banned but, nonetheless took place. In the 1976 student uprising the centre was one of the very few public buildings which did not suffer any damage, not even any broken windows which clearly demonstrated the degree of community involvement in the centre. More importantly, on the 13th June, three days before the uprising took place, the South African Students Movement called a meeting at the D.O.C.C. which was attended by about four thousand students, representing fifty five schools.
It was there that the decision was taken to stage the demonstration of the 16th June.Financially, however, tough times continued for the centre. But in the early 1980`s the Orlando YMCA received assistance which went a long way to making it self supporting: the Anglo American Chairman`s Fund paid for the building of a youth hostel at the centre which would serve as a residence for black African students who were attending universities such as Wits but who were not allowed to live in the university residences.
Today all students can live wherever they please, but the YMCA residence is nonetheless fully occupied, by youth of sexes, and the centre, having survived the last 60 years without the promised government assistance, is close to being financially independent and has become one of the landmarks of Soweto.
The D.O.C.C. was only one of many organizations to be crippled by the hostile apartheid government. It seemed that for a white South African to have any sort of contact with a black South African was a threat to government.

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Students gathered at the D.O.C.C. on the 16th of June, 1976 for their fateful protest march.

Organizations close to the trust that were affected were the Jan Hofmeyr School of Social Work and the University of Fort Hare. The Jan Hofmeyr School had been supported by the trust for twenty years until it was closed in 1960, and Fort Hare was taken over by the apartheid educational system and turned into a showpiece to demonstrate that there was no need for black students to attend white universities.
For the trust the application of apartheid ideology meant that any hope of securing greater black African participation in either the political or the economic life of South Africa was doomed to fail.


Moreover it had to be careful not to become involved in politics. Insofar as the political sentiments of the trustees were concerned, the purpose of the trust was a political statement in itself (the advancement of the status, the improvement of the conditions and the removal of the disabilities), and with this they had to be content. The trustees had to make sure that, in practice, its activities were essentially charitable. Not to do so would be to risk being classified as a political organization and risk being banned. And, where a gathering of more than three people could be termed illegal not to mention the fact that it was illegal for the multiracial board of trustees to have a drink together after meetings, the threat of being banned was harsh reality. In addition, the board of trustees included openly anti-government political activists including Dr Alfred, president of the A.N.C. 1940 -1949.

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Trustee and president of the African National Congress 1940-1949 Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma.

When he set up the trust, the Colonel had been very sympathetic to the political plight of the people he wished to help and so the trust simply carried on as before, supporting black African welfare agencies as it had always done, but on a reduced scale because of Succession Duty and because its capital was tied up. The trustees elected Rheinhallt Jones, President of the Institute of Race Relations, as chairman after the death of the Colonel and, when he died in 1954, Edward James Donaldson, the Colonel’s son who had been involved from inception was elected. When the ANC were banned in 1960 the only political organization to which the trust continued to give money to was the Black Sash (so called as members wore a black sash to mourn the death of democracy).

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Black Sash protest march.

But the donation was not for their political activities but the nation-wide network of advice offices which they had set up to assist vast numbers of the black African population, many of whom were illiterate, to find their way through the complicated web of restrictive and illogical laws which governed every aspect of their lives.
In 1963 Edward Donaldson managed to release the trust’s holding in Superconcrete Pipes Ltd, its major asset, and the money was reinvested in securities which gave it a more fluid capital base and a higher income yield.This enabled it to give more freely again but because of increasing government restrictions, it was still concentrating on strictly charitable projects. By the end of 1976 the total amount which it had given since inception stood at R 1 150 000. As government restrictions became more and more oppressive, the term “Bantu”, which had once been considered such a dignified and respectful form of address, had become more and more unacceptable, especially in the mouths of government officials. It had become symbolic of the apartheid government’s aim of perpetual separation between the black and white citizens of South Africa, with the black citizens being allotted a status that was inferior.
Worse still, the trust was being contacted by people who thought it was a government department. For practical as well as emotional reasons the trustees decided to change the name. The problem was that nobody could agree on what was acceptable. The chairman elect, Ian Haggie, suggested that they stop looking for a suitable alternative to the name “Bantu” and call the trust after the founder. And so, in 1977, the trust was renamed The Donaldson Trust.

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Mr Edward James Donaldson, son of the founder.


Ian Haggie became chairman in 1978 after the death of Edward James Donaldson and continued until 1995 when he resigned and handed the chairmanship over to Benjamin Donaldson, the grandson of the founder.
At about the time that Ian Haggie became chairman and possibly because of the 1976 student riots, government officials became more approachable and so did government.Many of the pointless, petty laws were scrapped as were several restrictions which so hampered the lives of ordinary people. As Pik Botha, the country ’s Foreign Minister, later said “I am not prepared to die for the privilege of travelling in the same lift”.
For the trust this meant that some projects which were previously ignored or frowned upon by the government now received financial support and certain government officials were even willing to cooperate.

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By the 1980’s, the apartheid government began to accept the failure of the system.

One such project involved a German educational adviser and science teacher, Mr Bruck, who was working in Soweto for the Centre of Continuing Education. Bruck wanted to start a Teacher In-Service Training Centre so Ian Haggie and Pat Lewis visited a high-ranking official called Jaap Strydom in the Department of Education who told them that in-service training for teachers was low on the government’s list of priorities but assured them that he personally felt that it was necessary. He proceeded to secure a suitable site in Soweto on the Potchefstroom Road opposite the St John Ophthalmic Centre, and persuaded government to appoint a Director of In-Service Training which meant that teachers would now have to attend training instead of it being voluntary. Bruck said that he had approached the German Chamber of Commerce who had promised a more money and had undertaken to pay teachers’ salaries. The trust then increased the original grant from R25 000 to R80 000. Strydom remained with the project from inception in 1979 until its completion in 1981.


At the time, another encouraging initiative was taking place, and that was the involvement of the big corporates in community development. Harry Oppenheimer was the undoubted leader in this. His father, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer had created a Chairman’s Fund, and this had been expanded by Harry Oppenheimer who also initiated community development programmes in all the Anglo and De Beer companies. He also led the way in raising the wages of his mine workers, and encouraged the participation of leading government supporters in the mining industry.
This led to the participation of the government in community development programmes, notably the Urban Foundation in which the mining houses and government combined forces to improve urban living conditions. One of the numerous collaborations between the Urban Foundation and the Donaldson Trust was the Thembisa Children’s Home.The project had now become much bigger than had been originally envisaged.

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Children celebrate Christmas at the Thembisa Children’s Home on the East Rand, Johannesburg.

The Urban Foundation, which had become involved through the interest shown by Anglo American at an early stage, combined forces with the German Chamber of Commerce and together they shared all the remaining costs. When the centre, which was called the FUNDA Centre, was opened by the German ambassador two years later, they had each contributed about R3 000 000.

This was to set the pattern for the trust’s future policy: to act as a catalyst. The big corporations had far greater resources than the trust and were able to disperse much greater sums of money. But the trust, because it was not accountable to shareholders nor hampered by any rigid company policy, had a flexibility which enabled it to give sufficient support to new initiatives which then attracted larger sponsorship from the big corporations.


There was another facet to the increased scale of corporate giving which caused a further reassessment of the trust’s policy, and that was that the corporates tended to concentrate their donations to the urban areas. As a result the trust decided to focus its attention on the rural areas.
It was in the early 1980’s that the trust received a substantial bequest from a Mr V Dunwell who had approached Institute of Race Relations for a of four African welfare agencies. When he died, he left a large portion of his estate to be divided equally among the four, of which the trust was one. Its share amounted to over R600 000. This was the sort of donation that the Colonel would have been very glad to receive; he had tried to attract public donations from the very beginning and had hoped that by advertising the activities of the trust, he would find a good number of sympathizers throughout the country who would support it.

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Conditions in the rural areas were worse than in the cities.


He even held a fund-raising dinner at the Carlton hotel at which he, Rheinhallt Jones and Jan Hofmeyr explained the purpose of the trust and spoke about the necessity of addressing the plight of the country’s black African population. It was the lack of response from the public that at one stage had tempted him to spend the entire capital. He had nonetheless received some donations, including £500 from Jan Hofmeyr and another £250 from Justice Schreiner.

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By the 1980’s the Donaldson Trust moved its focus to the rural areas.

As the 1980’s progressed the policy of giving in the rural areas became a reality with the establishment in Sekhukhuneland of Operation Hunger. There was a drought at the time and Ina Perlman of Operation Hunger sent up a young man, Johan Rissik, to encourage the local women to start community gardens and combat the near famine conditions by growing vegetables. She persuaded a professor of hydrology from Wits University to pinpoint a number of likely sites for boreholes, and Johan Rissik, who had moved there on a permanent basis, sank the boreholes, installed and maintained the pumps, fenced the gardens and generally collaborated with the women in forming, procuring the seed and marketing the excess vegetables.
A total of forty gardens was established, all paid for by the trust which then went on to start other projects. It provided training in first-aid and home-care for St John volunteers who formed a St John Brigade and went on to become formal government health-care workers.

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Operation Hunger food garden.

It persuaded an educationalist, Professor van der Vyver, to work with governing bodies and teachers of local schools, which he did so successfully that one these schools achieved a 100% matric pass rate. Professor Dawid van der Vyver had been professor of linguistics at Stellenbosch University and had resigned his post in order to head up the 1 000 Schools project in LimpopoHe remained in Limpopo when the 1 000 Schools project came to an end, and when he came to work in Sekhukhuneland he was so well thought of by the local community that, when he announced that he would have to leave because he could get no more sponsorship, they wanted to raise funds for him to stay.

The biggest project that the trust undertook in Sekhukhuneland, however, was labour intensive road-building which it did in collaboration with Wits University.Spearheaded by the current chairman, Benjamin Donaldson who formed a non-profit company called Labour Intensive Engineering and Training Ass Inc, the purpose of which was to provide employment and training. It made utilized the skills of final-year Dutch students who did their internship with LITE in Sekhukhuland..



King Sekhukhune II and Benjy Donaldson with survivors of the Fetakgomo Uprising of 1958.

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Current chairman Benjy Donaldson.


For a time Anglo Platinum provided additional funding but did not take on the project. Eventually LITE fed into the Expanded Public Works Programme.While these large projects were going on the trust was supporting numerous other projects around the country: a list of all projects undertaken or supported over years 1977 to 2007 shows that, in total, the amount spent on them comes to R11 500 000.
Up until 1976 the amount spent R1 150 000 so that, although it cannot be expressed in today`s monetary values, the total spent on all projects since inception is R12 650 000. Now that the country has achieved majority rule, the purpose of the trust ‘to secure greater African participation in the political and economic life of the country’ has been achieved to some extent. But, despite the new government`s efforts, there is so much more that needs to be done before the dream of full black African participation becomes a reality.

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Building bridges with L.I.T.E.

Moreover, there is always a need, in every country, for organizations that can offer a life-line where government is unable to help and also to identify a need before government addresses it.And so it seems that the Donaldson Trust is set to continue for a long time.