South African Institute of Race Relations

Coordinates: 26°10′51″S 28°00′45″E / 26.18083°S 28.01250°E / -26.18083; 28.01250
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South African Institute of Race Relations
Formation1929; 94 years ago (1929)
Registration no.1937/010068/08
Legal statusNon-profit, Public Benefit Organisation
PurposePublic policy advocacy
Headquarters222 Smit Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
  • South Africa
Coordinates26°10′51″S 28°00′45″E / 26.18083°S 28.01250°E / -26.18083; 28.01250
Chief Executive Officer
John Endres
30 - 50

The South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) is a research and policy organisation in South Africa. The IRR was founded in 1929 to improve and report upon race relations in South Africa between the politically dominant white group and the black, coloured, and Indian populations,[1]: 25  making the Institute "one of the oldest liberal institutions in the country".[2]

The Institute investigates socioeconomic conditions in South Africa, and aims to address issues such as poverty and inequality, and to promote economic growth through promoting a system of limited government, a market economy, private enterprise, freedom of speech, individual liberty, property rights, and the rule of law.[3] The IRR tracks trends in every area of South Africa's development, ranging from business and the economy to crime, living conditions, and politics.

Throughout most of its history of opposing segregation and Apartheid, it has been regarded as liberal.[4]: 79, 84  In more recent years the IRR and its work has also been variously labelled as right-wing (for instance by the academic Roger Southall[5] and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba[6]), conservative (in a New Frame editorial[7] and by NEHAWU Western Cape secretary Luthando Nogcinisa[8]), and reactionary (by former NUMSA spokesperson Irvin Jim[9]), although it describes itself as adhering to classical liberalism.[10][11]

During the periods of segregation and Apartheid, the IRR mostly drew its support from urbanites, tending to be from United Party-dominated parliamentary wards, who had a more "liberal" view on South Africa’s race question.[12]: 71 

Historian JP Brits argues that the IRR and its spiritual predecessor, the Joint Councils of Europeans and Africans, were the "most important extra-parliamentary organisations” to take an interest in the welfare of black South Africans. Both the Joint Councils and the IRR supported and had "native representatives" (whites chosen to represent blacks in Parliament) as their members and functionaries.[12]: 47 

The IRR, alongside the Liberal Party, the Progressive Party, the Black Sash, the Civil Rights League, and the National Union of South African Students, according to Timothy Hughes, formed "the core of the 'liberal establishment'" in South Africa from the 1950s.[13]: 26  In 1996, the academic Hugh Corder, and later critic,[14] described the IRR as an important “national asset.”[15]: 133 


The institute was founded in 1929.[16] The inaugural meeting was held on 9 May 1929 in the Johannesburg home of the missionary Reverend Ray E. Phillips. In attendance were Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu, one of the first professors at the University of Fort Hare; Johannes du Plessis, a missionary and theologian; Charles Templeman Loram, chief inspector of Native education in Natal Province; Edgar Brookes, J. Howard Pim, a government official; Thomas W. Mackenzie, editor of The Friend, a newspaper and J. H. Nicholson, Mayor of Durban.[17] The IRR has run a bursary scheme since 1935. Nelson Mandela was awarded a bursary from the IRR in 1947 to complete his legal studies.[18]


In June 2013, the IRR published a policy bulletin [19] that challenged the concept of anthropogenic climate change, which gained significant media traction. The organisation has consistently advocated a position of climate change denial, stating in a 2023 Parliamentary stakeholder engagement on the proposed climate change bill that the IPCC is "a political advocacy group with a powerful vested interest in spreading climate fear"[20]

In 2016, the IRR published a study whose results were critical towards South Africa's proposed Sugar Sweetened Beverage tax. Upon enquiry by journalists, it was revealed that the study was funded by Coca-Cola. IRR CEO Frans Cronje said that the IRR chose not to disclose this source of funding as "it was not at any stage considered exceptional, noteworthy or controversial".[21] The IRR's public affairs officer Kelebogile Leepile said that the IRR intentionally approached groups who were likely to be negatively affected by the sugar tax and asked them to fund this research.[22]

In December 2018, the IRR announced that it would be working with controversial cartoonist, Jeremy Talfer Nell, known as Jerm after he was fired by the civic organisation Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse for publishing a cartoon that discussed the link between race and IQ.[23] The IRR defended their decision to hire Jerm by saying that even though the link between race and IQ has been disproved, Asian-Americans still outperform Americans of other races with regards to income and education levels despite historically being victims of racism, and called Jerm's firing “cowardly and disgraceful”.[24] In May 2021, the IRR also fired Jerm.[25]

In March 2019, the IRR was criticized for working with columnist David Bullard after they announced that they were hosting an event with him at Stellenbosch University.[26] The IRR went on to hire Bullard as a columnist for their online publication The Daily Friend. Bullard had previously attracted controversy for referring to black people as "darkies".[27] The IRR's head of media Michael Morris defended the decision to platform Bullard, citing freedom of speech. Morris said "It takes courage to be willing to be offended and reply with reason. That is what freedom means. Outlawing what might offend us only enfeebles and disables reason itself."[28]

In March 2020, David Bullard was fired from the IRR after he made a tweet defending the use of the racial slur kaffir.[29]

In March 2019, the IRR called on lobby group AfriForum to retract a documentary that "seemingly sanitises the motives behind Apartheid and the brutality of its practices".[30] When asked why AfriForum was listed as a funder in the IRR's 2015 and 2016 annual reports, as well as on their website, IRR CEO Frans Cronje stated "AfriForum have never funded the IRR. Someone put their name under funders in some of our documents and website which I only discovered once it was reported in the media."[31]

On 1 June 2020, Cronje was forced to distance the IRR from comments made by one of its council members. IRR council member Unathi Kwaza tweeted: "Black people were better off under apartheid. It's time we admit this - at least those of us with honour." Cronje responded in a statement that "The broader IRR has always harboured a diversity of opinion among its structures and staff. However, the tweeted comment that apartheid was better than democracy does not accord with the position of the organisation or that of the great majority, almost without exception, of staff and office-bearers.".[32]

Sponsors and Donors[edit]

The institute receives donations and funds from:[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Byrne, Errol (1990). The First Liberal ~ Rheinallt Jones. Johannesburg: Angel Press. ISBN 0-620-14291-X.
  2. ^ Hearn, Julie (1 October 2000). "Aiding democracy? Donors and civil society in South Africa". Third World Quarterly. Vol. 21, no. 5. p. 827.
  3. ^ "About Us — Institute Of Race Relations". Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  4. ^ Rich, Paul (1981). "The South African institute of race relations and the debate on race relations, 1929-1958". Collected Seminar Papers. Institute of Commonwealth Studies. 28: 77–90. ISSN 0076-0773.
  5. ^ "LETTER: IRR now a right-wing agitator". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  6. ^ "Herman Mashaba: 'Far right-wing' IRR has done 'too much damage' to the DA". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  7. ^ Frame, By: New; Editorial (25 October 2019). "Will the DA become an anglicised FF+?". New Frame. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  8. ^ "ANC battles unholy alliance". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  9. ^ "Numsa: SAIRR hostile towards ANC". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  10. ^ Endres, John. "RIGHT OF REPLY | John Endres: The IRR holds the liberal line against the left". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  11. ^ Corrigan, Terence (7 September 2021). "LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Institute of Race Relations is on the same long, hard path as it always was — the path of classical liberalism". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  12. ^ a b Brits, JP (1994). Op die Vooraand van Apartheid: Die Rassevraagstuk en die Blanke Politiek in Suid-Afrika, 1939-1948. Pretoria: University of South Africa. ISBN 086981835X.
  13. ^ Hughes, Tim (1994). "Political liberalism in South Africa in the 1980s and the formation of the Democratic Party". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ "OPEN LETTER | 'We are concerned about the direction the IRR is taking'". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  15. ^ Corder, Hugh (1997). "Shrill and overstated". In Husemeyer, Libby (ed.). Watchdogs or Hypocrites? The Amazing Debate on South African Liberals and Liberalism. Johannesburg: Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung. ISBN 0-9584163-7-0.
  16. ^ "SAIRR wins American Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award for 2013". Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  17. ^ Morris, Michael. "Institute of Race Relations' endurance a testament to founders'". South African Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  18. ^ "Bursaries". South African Institute of Race Relations. The IRR is proud to have been funding the education of thousands of South Africans, regardless of race, since 1935, among them such notable figures as Nelson Mandela
  19. ^ "Climate change Science and the climate change scare". Retrieved 5 May 2023. Basic physics shows that CO2, a weak greenhouse gas, can never have an important effect on temperatures.
  20. ^ "Climate Change Bill: public hearings in SA Parliament, May 2023".
  21. ^ "The IRR: Dissection of a media slur campaign". Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  22. ^ "Coca-Cola is funding research against South Africa's proposed Sugar Tax". BusinessTech. 7 December 2016. Retrieved 5 May 2021. "The IRR actively sought out this project by approaching groups that were likely to be negatively affected and asking for funding to do this research," media and public affairs officer Kelebogile Leepile told Fin24.
  23. ^ "OUTA's axing of Jerm cowardly and disgraceful - IRR - DOCUMENTS | Politicsweb". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  24. ^ "Why We Are Happy For Jerm To Draw For Us". South African Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 5 May 2021. Despite having little political power, being numerical minorities and having historically often been victims of racism themselves, Americans of Asian extraction perform disproportionately well in that society.
  25. ^ "New Cartoonist Appointed at The Daily Friend" (PDF). 25 May 2021. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  26. ^ Friedman, Daniel (8 March 2019). "Institute of Race Relations slammed for inviting 'racist' David Bullard to speak". The Citizen. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  27. ^ "'Professor' David Bullard encourages 'darkies' to destroy Wits". The Citizen. 20 September 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  28. ^ Morris, Michael (11 March 2019). "Ideas should be heard, whether Bullard's or Mngxitama's - IRR". The Citizen. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  29. ^ "Columnist David Bullard axed over K-word tweet". SowetanLIVE. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  30. ^ "No grounds for sanitising Apartheid's tragic and callous history" (PDF). South African Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  31. ^ du Toit, Pieter (13 March 2019). "'Verwoerd' documentary must be retracted, urges IRR, AfriForum says 'nee wat'". News24. Retrieved 5 May 2021. AfriForum have never funded the IRR. Someone put their name under funders in some of our documents and website which I only discovered once it was reported in the media.
  32. ^ Mabuza, Ernest (1 June 2020). "No, black South Africans were not better off under apartheid: IRR". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  33. ^ "Sponsors and Donors". Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 6 September 2023.

External links[edit]