SAIRR wins American Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award for 2013

On behalf of the American business community in South Africa, the American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa last night presented the Amcham Leadership Award for 2013 to the South African Institute of Race Relations. The award recognises the Institute’s “outstanding contribution to economic growth, business dialogue, and strengthening democratic processes”. The citation appears below.

AmCham Leadership Award 2013

The AmCham Leadership Award is intended to recognize outstanding people or organizations who through their work and endeavours have given expression to the aims and objectives of the American Chamber of Commerce. The intention is to recognize dedicated and exemplary achievements in which the recipient of an AmCham Leadership Award has facilitated business dialogue, economic growth and the strengthening of democratic processes. Accompanying an AmCham Leadership Award is a bursary, in the name of the recipient, to a graduate student to complete a post-graduate programme in South Africa.

At tonight’s annual Thanksgiving Dinner we recognize and honour South Africa’s oldest independent ‘think tank’ the South African Institute of Race Relations, which has, for the past 84 years conducted research, completed policy critiques and risk analysis on South Africa. From inception this bold organization has concentrated on the investigation of social and economic conditions and has endeavoured to unearth the hard facts about the standard of living of disadvantaged groups to create public awareness of these facts and to promote inter-racial understanding.

This independent researched based organization has consistently believed that the power of ideas are grist to the mill of social discourse and policy formulation. The Institute has drip fed into the bloodstream of society the big ideas, which, at the time of introduction have mostly been controversial, but which have ultimately played a major role in changing and shaping South African society.

The Institute spoke out clearly and unequivocally against apartheid policies. In the 1950s and 1960s it strongly opposed the government policies designed to ruthlessly establish a racially segregated society. In the 1970s and 1980s it was in the vanguard of protest interventions and programmes in support of those marginalized by apartheid such as Operation Hunger and the Institute’s extensive bursary programme.

For the past 31 years the Institute has awarded bursaries, the majority to black students, worth in excess of R230 million. Since 1980 3695 students have graduated in the fields of science and engineering, business and commerce, medicine, dentistry and related health sciences, education, arts and law. Since 1994 the Institute has been the custodian of the AmCham bursary fund which has led to the graduation of 50 students.

Undoubtedly the most famous recipient of an Institute’s bursary was Nelson Mandela who received a grant in 1947 to complete his legal studies. Seventeen years later, on the 20 April, he quoted the Institute’s research on discriminatory educational spending in his celebrated “I am prepared to die” speech from the dock during the Treason Trial.

It is not possible to cover on an occasion like this all of the Institute’s work, impact and achievements but suffice to say that the core activity involves gathering, analyzing, publishing and disseminating information on all aspects of South Africa from a social, political and economic viewpoint. Many in this audience will know of the Institute’s work through the annual South Africa Survey, which is widely regarded as the best reference and strategic planning resource for organizations invested in South Africa. All of their projects and programmes draw on their extensive research from which emanates the power of big ideas.

Many AmCham members will also have experienced the benefit of the Institute’s extensive research through the consulting arm the Centre for Risk Analysis, which is designed to inform business, political, government and diplomatic leaders about risks likely to be on South Africa’s social, education and political horizon in the future. It is true to state that theInstitute’s research reflects the “rise and fall of apartheid in statistics.”

Throughout its history the Institute has had a significant influence over ideas in South Africa. In prioritizing its goals the Institute has been indifferent to both criticism and praise because, as an independent ‘think tank’, it has been prepared to stand on the wrong side of public opinion. It has never been motivated by popularity but by the importance of ideas. This takes courage to adopt contrary positions and to explicitly adopt an independent view.

In conclusion, the South African Institute of Race Relations, which is independent of government and all political parties, sees its role as serving its members and South Africa at large to make South Africa the political and economic success of the continent by promoting liberal, democratic values.

As the country continues to grapple with the wide-spread damaging impact of past racial policies and with the development of South Africa’s hard-won democracy the passing of ideas into the political debate is the responsibility of society which needs to be supported by independent and focused research based organizations. Since its inception in 1929 theInstitute has consistently and fearlessly produced research in order to empower decision makers in business, government, and politics to make informed decisions and better policy.

AmCham honours the South African Institute of Race Relations for playing a pivotal role in the demise of apartheid and its support of the development of democracy which underscores the fact that the importance of ideas is not to be disdained. AmCham salutes the South African Institute of Race Relations for its independence, courage, research and dissemination of powerful ideas. Its mission over decades gives effect to Victor Hugo’s injunction that “Only one thing is stronger than all the armies of the world and that is an idea whose time has come.”

To receive the AmCham Leadership Award from the AmCham president, Jeff Nemeth, is the chief executive officer of the Institute, Mr. John Kane-Berman.

– Statement issued by the American Chamber of Commerce, South Africa, 27 November 2013