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Harry Frederick Oppenheimer
28 October 1908
|Died||19 August 2000 (aged 91)|
Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa
Harry Frederick Oppenheimer (28 October 1908 – 19 August 2000) was a prominent South African businessman, industrialist and philanthropist. Oppenheimer was often ranked as one of the wealthiest people in the world, and was considered South Africa's foremost industrialist for four decades. In 2004 he was voted 60th in the SABC3's Great South Africans.
Early life and education
The son of May (Pollack) and Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, Harry was born to an assimilated Jewish family of German origins in Kimberley, the original centre for diamond mining in South Africa, and lived most of his life in Johannesburg. He had a formal Bar mitzvah ("coming of age") ceremony in the Kimberley synagogue when he turned thirteen. He converted to Christianity when he married his wife.
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. When he married his wife Bridget (née McCall), he chose to enter the Anglican Church, but remained a supporter of Jewish causes during his entire life. He authorised the flow of diamonds to Israel's important diamond-sorting and diamond-cutting industry.
Harry Oppenheimer was the chairman of Anglo American Corporation for 25 years and chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines for 27 years until he retired from those positions in 1982 and 1984 respectively. His son, Nicky Oppenheimer, became Deputy Chairman of Anglo American Corporation in 1983 and Chairman of De Beers in 1998. His daughter, Mary Slack, resides predominantly at Brenthurst, a suburb of Johannesburg, but has houses in Muizenberg and London, England, and a commercially successful thoroughbred breeding farm situated about an hour-and-a-half north from Cape Town. The stud farm trades under the name Wilgerbosdrift Stud, and has bred some successful horses.
He also spent some time as the Member of Parliament for Kimberley (1948 to 1957) and became the opposition spokesman on economics, finance and constitutional affairs.
He was also generous to the official philanthropies of the State of Israel. He personally directed that Israel receive the necessary diamond raw products from De Beers to establish itself as one of the world's diamond polishing and exporting countries.
The Harry Oppenheimer Fellowship Award, Africa's premier research prize, is awarded every year by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, in memory of Harry Oppenheimer's commitment to an ideal of "unambiguous excellence."
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