Harry Oppenheimer

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Harry Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer in Amsterdam, 1945
Harry Frederick Oppenheimer

28 October 1908
Kimberley, South Africa
Died19 August 2000(2000-08-19) (aged 91)
Johannesburg, South Africa
EducationOxford University
ChildrenMary Oppenheimer
Nicky Oppenheimer
Parent(s)May Pollack
Ernest Oppenheimer

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.[1] In 2004 he was voted 60th in the SABC3's Great South Africans.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

The son of May (Pollack)[3] 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.[1] 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.[1]

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.[4] 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[1] 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.[5] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


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.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he financed the anti-apartheid Progressive Federal Party that later merged into the Democratic Alliance.[6] He was a South African Freemason.[7]

Kimberley conferred Freedom of the City on Oppenheimer on 4 September 1973 as a tribute to "an illustrious son of the city" who continued to promote Kimberley as "the diamond centre of the world."[8]

The Harry Oppenheimer Agricultural High School in Limburg, Limpopo is named in his honour in recognition of the funds he provided for its establishment.

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."


Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum in Ramat Gan, Israel, was founded in 1986 to present his life and career.


  1. ^ a b c d Pallister, David (20 August 2000). "Obituary: Harry Oppenheimer, diamond baron". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  2. ^ "The 10 Greatest South Africans of all time". Bizcommunity. 27 September 2004. Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  3. ^ "The Brenthurst Library". Brenthurst.org.za. 25 September 1917. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  4. ^ "Diamonds May Not Be For Ever – But At The Moment They Look Pretty Good", Jewish Business News by Clive Minchom, 11 June 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  5. ^ Berger, Marilyn (21 August 2000). "Harry Oppenheimer, 91, South African Industrialist, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 10 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Philanthropy in South Africa – Opinion, News". Property24.com. 14 July 2014. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Freemasons remember their Harry Oppenheimer". IOL news. 23 August 2000. Retrieved 31 August 2018.
  8. ^ Hart, R. 2010. Mr H.F. Oppenheimer receives the Freedom of the City of Kimberley. Now and Then: Newsletter of the Historical Society of Kimberley and the Northern Cape 18(3):1–2

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by Chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines
circa 1960–1983
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the University of Cape Town
Succeeded by