South African Institute of Race Relations

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]

South African Institute of Race Relations
Formation1929; 95 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 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 1958, Gwendolen M. Carter wrote that "the Institute keeps close touch with non-European groups and over a long period of time has constituted itself as a spokesman for their interests."[5]: 336  In more recent years the IRR and its work has also been variously labelled as right-wing (for instance by the academic Roger Southall[6] and former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba[7]), conservative (in a New Frame editorial[8] and by NEHAWU Western Cape secretary Luthando Nogcinisa[9]), and reactionary (by former NUMSA spokesperson Irvin Jim[10]), although it describes itself as adhering to classical liberalism.[11][12]

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.[13]: 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.[13]: 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.[14]: 26  In 1996, the academic Hugh Corder, and later critic,[15] described the IRR as an important “national asset.”[16]: 133 



Inspiration and precursors


Charles Templeman Loram and Maurice Evans established the Native Affairs Reform Association in Natal in 1910. The association consisted only of whites.[1]: 21  Loram was Chief Inspector of Native Education in Natal from 1917 to 1920, when he was appointed as a member of the South African government's Native Affairs Commission in 1920.[17]: 307 

In 1921, Thomas Jesse Jones of the Phelps Stokes Fund and James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey visited South Africa, bringing with them the idea of the “inter-racial commissions” spearheaded by Will Winton Alexander in the Deep South of the United States. Alexander's Commission on Interracial Cooperation sought to “promote harmony” between white and black Americans toward the end of the First World War. John David Rheinallt Jones became the honorary secretary of the first "Joint Council" in South Africa, in Johannesburg,[1]: 21  and is regarded as a founder of the Joint Council movement.[1]: 26 

The Joint Councils replaced the Natal Native Affairs Reform Association and were multiracial in composition. Brits notes that the Joint Councils brought together church groups, including the prominent Dutch Reformed Church, university departments, the educational sector, journalists, civil servants, municipalities, and business. The members were from black groups, and it was mostly conservatives and moderates from the middle class that participated, even though the sentiment that led to the establishment of the councils was a liberal one.[13]: 48 

The Joint Councils hosted National European African Conferences in 1924, 1929, and 1933, and one European and Coloured Conference in 1933.[1]: 22 



Journalist Errol Byrne recounts the formation of the IRR as follows:

“On May 9, 1929 eight South African liberals met at the house of the Rev. Ray Phillips and his wife in Berea, Johannesburg. It was Ascension Thursday and a public holiday in South Africa. The meeting was called to order at 11 o’clock in the morning, and by the time it ended at 5 o’clock in the afternoon the Institute of Race Relations had been formed.”

The founders, according to Byrne, were Rheinallt Jones, Charles Loram, J Howard Pim (a government official), Edgar Brookes, Johannes du Plessis (a missionary and theologian), Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu (one of the first professors at the University of Fort Hare), JH Nicholson (Mayor of Durban), and JG van der Horst.[1]: 25  Loram was chairman, Pim treasurer, and Jones secretary.[18]: 6  According to Colin de Berri Webb the founders also included Alfred Hoernlé and Leo Marquard [af].[19]: 40  Michael Morris additionally writes that Thomas W Mackenzie, editor of The Friend newspaper of Bloemfontein, was present at the founding.[20] At the founding meeting the organisation's name was planned to be the “Committee on Race Relations,” but the Executive Committee changed this after the meeting had ended to the “Institute of Race Relations.”[21]: 201 

Bursary program


The IRR has run a bursary scheme since 1935, which had by 1980 awarded 3,685 bursaries to primarily black students. By 2013 this program had awarded in excess of R230 million worth of bursaries.[22] Nelson Mandela was awarded a bursary from the IRR in 1947 to complete his legal studies.[23]



In June 2013, the IRR published a policy bulletin [24] 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"[25]

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".[26] 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.[27]

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.[28] 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”.[29] In May 2021, the IRR also fired Jerm.[30]

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.[31] 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".[32] 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."[33]

In March 2020, David Bullard was fired from the IRR after he made a tweet defending the use of the racial slur kaffir.[34]

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".[35] 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."[36]

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.".[37]




No. Image Presidents Term of office Notes
1 Charles Templeman Loram 1930-1931
2 Edgar Harry Brookes 1931-1933
3 Reinhold Friedrich Alfred Hoernlé 1933-1943
4 Maurice Webb 1943-1945
5 Edgar Harry Brookes 1945-1948
6   Agnes Winifred Hoernlé 1948-1950
7 John David Rheinallt Jones 1950-1953
8 Ellen Hellmann 1953-1955
9 Leo Marquard [af] 1955-1957
10 Johannes Reyneke 1957-1958
11 Donald Barkly Molteno 1958-1960
12 Edgar Harry Brookes 1960-1961
13 Oliver Deneys Schreiner 1961-1963 Retired judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa known for his liberal jurisprudence.
12 Denis Eugene Hurley 1963-1965 Roman Catholic Archbishop of Durban and opponent of Apartheid.
13 Ernst Gideon Malherbe 1965-1967 Educator and principal of the University of Natal.[39]
14 Leo Marquard 1967-1968
15 ID MacCrone 1968-1969 Professor of Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand.[40]
16 Sheila van der Horst 1969-1971
17   William Frederick Nkomo & Duchesne Cowley Grice 1971-1973 Nkomo was a doctor and activist who co-founded the ANC Youth League, and Grice was a Durban attorney.
18 Duchesne Cowley Grice 1972-1973
19 Bernard Friedman 1973-1975 Doctor and co-founder of the Progressive Party.
20 Ezekiel Mahabane 1975-1977
21 Christopher John Robert Dugard 1977-1979 Professor of International Law.
22 René de Villiers 1979-1980 Journalist and Progressive Party MP.[41]
23 Franz Auerbach 1980-1983 Educator and founder of Jews for Social Justice.[42]
24 Lawrence Schlemmer 1983-1985 Professor of Social Sciences, University of Natal, and founder of the Centre for Social and Development Studies.[43]
25 Stuart John Saunders 1985-1987 Medical researcher and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.[44]
26 Mmutlanyane Stanley Mogoba 1987-1989 Methodist minister and President of the Pan Africanist Congress.
27 Helen Suzman 1989-1992 Progressive Party MP.
28 William D (Bill) Wilson 1992-1994
29 Hermann Giliomee 1994-1996 Historian.
30 Themba Sono 1996-2003 Academic and former President of the South African Student Organisation.[45]
31 Elwyn Jenkins 2003-2007 Educator and principal of the Mamelodi Campus of Vista University.[46]
32 Sipho Seepe 2007-2009 Professor, University of Zululand.
33 Jonathan Jansen 2009-2020 Professor of Education, University of Stellenbosch.[47]
34 Russell Lamberti 2020-2024 Economist.[48]
35 Mark Oppenheimer 2024-Present Advocate of the High Court of South Africa.

Sponsors and Donors


The institute receives donations and funds from:[49]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. ^ Carter, Gwendolen M. (1958). The Politics of Inequality: South Africa Since 1948. London: Thames and Hudson.
  6. ^ "LETTER: IRR now a right-wing agitator". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  7. ^ "Herman Mashaba: 'Far right-wing' IRR has done 'too much damage' to the DA". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  8. ^ Frame, By: New; Editorial (25 October 2019). "Will the DA become an anglicised FF+?". New Frame. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  9. ^ "ANC battles unholy alliance". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  10. ^ "Numsa: SAIRR hostile towards ANC". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  11. ^ Endres, John. "RIGHT OF REPLY | John Endres: The IRR holds the liberal line against the left". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b c 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.
  14. ^ 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)
  15. ^ "OPEN LETTER | 'We are concerned about the direction the IRR is taking'". News24. Retrieved 3 August 2023.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Brookes, Edgar Harry (1924). The History of Native Policy in South Africa from 1830 to the Present Day. Cape Town: Nasionale Pers.
  18. ^ Hellmann, Ellen (1979). The South African Institute of Race Relations 1929-1979: A Short History. Johannesburg: South African Institute of Race Relations. ISBN 0869821792.
  19. ^ Webb, Colin de Berri (1979). "Edgar Harry Brookes 1897-1979" (PDF). Natalia. 9: 39–42.
  20. ^ "MICHAEL MORRIS: Institute of Race Relations' endurance a testament to founders'". BusinessLIVE. Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  21. ^ Haines, Richard John. "The Politics of Philanthropy and Race Relations: The Joint Councils of South Africa, c.1920-1955" (PDF). SOAS Research Online.
  22. ^ "SAIRR wins American Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award for 2013 | WHAM MEDIA". Retrieved 10 November 2023.
  23. ^ "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
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "Climate Change Bill: public hearings in SA Parliament, May 2023".
  26. ^ "The IRR: Dissection of a media slur campaign". Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  27. ^ "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.
  28. ^ "OUTA's axing of Jerm cowardly and disgraceful - IRR - DOCUMENTS | Politicsweb". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "New Cartoonist Appointed at The Daily Friend" (PDF). 25 May 2021. Retrieved 23 December 2022.
  31. ^ Friedman, Daniel (8 March 2019). "Institute of Race Relations slammed for inviting 'racist' David Bullard to speak". The Citizen. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  32. ^ "'Professor' David Bullard encourages 'darkies' to destroy Wits". The Citizen. 20 September 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  33. ^ Morris, Michael (11 March 2019). "Ideas should be heard, whether Bullard's or Mngxitama's - IRR". The Citizen. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  34. ^ "Columnist David Bullard axed over K-word tweet". SowetanLIVE. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  35. ^ "No grounds for sanitising Apartheid's tragic and callous history" (PDF). South African Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  36. ^ 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.
  37. ^ Mabuza, Ernest (1 June 2020). "No, black South Africans were not better off under apartheid: IRR". TimesLIVE. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  38. ^ "83rd Annual Report" (PDF). South African Institute of Race Relations. South African Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  39. ^ "Dr Ernst Gideon Malherbe, SA educationist, is born in Luckhoff, OFS". South African History Online. South African History Online. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  40. ^ Loram, Charles T. "Race Attitudes in South Africa: Historical, Experimental, and Psychological Studies". Oxford Academic. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  41. ^ "Obituary: Rene de Villiers". The Independent. The Independent. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  42. ^ "Auerbach, Dr. Franz". Wits University Research Archives. University of the Witwatersrand. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  43. ^ "Lawrence Schlemmer". South African History Online. South African History Online. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  44. ^ "In memoriam: Dr Stuart Saunders". UCT News. University of Cape Town. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  45. ^ "Themba Sono is expelled from SASO". South African History Online. South African History Online. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  46. ^ "JENKINS, Elwyn 1939-". Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  47. ^ "Professor Jonathan Jansen". Werksmans. Werksmans. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  48. ^ "Sakeliga appoints Russell Lamberti as chief economist". Sakeliga. Sakeliga. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  49. ^ "Sponsors and Donors". Institute of Race Relations. Retrieved 6 September 2023.