South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR)

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South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR)

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Dates of existence



After the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, legislation was enacted which discriminated against the non-White section of the population and increased the racial segregation existing at the time of Union. This angered many Blacks and caused a series of strikes by Black workers. By the 1920s responsible Europeans, particularly churchmen, saw the importance of bringing the races together. Native Welfare Societies, consisting of liberal and philanthropic Europeans, were founded which in due course were replaced by Joint Councils, inter-racial in character.

The Joint Council movement was largely the inspiration of Dr. Thomas Jesse Jones and Dr. J.E.K. Aggrey who in 1921 conducted a study tour of education in South Africa on behalf of the Phelps-Stokes Fund of the United States of America. They had seen the value of inter-racial councils in America and persuaded Dr. C.T. Loram, Chief Inspector of Education in Natal, and his friend J. D. Rheinallt Jones, Secretary of the Witwatersrand Council of Education, to establish a multi-racial organisation with the aim of promoting understanding and goodwill between the races. Rheinallt Jones founded the first Joint Council of Europeans and Africans in Johannesburg in 1921 and by 1931 there were in existence thirty European-African Joint Councils' three European-Indian Joint Councils and a European-Coloured Joint Council was in the process of formation. In all eighty Joint Councils were established, many of them continuing to exist side by side with the Institute of Race Relations after it was founded in 1929. By 1951 only two Joint Councils remained, of which only one was active.

During visits to South Africa in the 1920s Dr. Jesse Jones convinced Rheinallt Jones of the need to set up a national body to centralise interracial activities. The project was made possible by finance from the Phelps-Stokes Fund and the Carnegie Corporation. Rheinallt Jones convened an inter-racial conference in Cape Town in January 1929 which revealed enthusiasm for a national organisation. He called together a committee of seven prominent South Africans not connected with any political party - E.H. Brookes, Professor J. du Plessis, Professor D.D.T. Jabavu, Dr. C.T. Loram, T.W. Mackenzie, J.H. Nicholson and J.H. Pim. They met on 9 May 1929 at the house of the Rev. Dr. R.E. Phillips in Johannesburg, resolved to fern a South African Institute of Race Relations and elected C.T. Loram chairman Howard Pim treasurer and Rheinallt Jones secretary.

With the deaths of Mackenzie end Nicholson and the transfer of Loram to a professorial chair at Yale, the Committee was reduced to six but in 1930 Dr. J.G. van der Horst was added and in 1931 Professor R.F.A. Hoernle, Leo Marquard and Senator Lewis Byron. These ten committee members are regarded as the foundation members of the Institute.


Legal status

Functions, occupations and activities

The principal aims of the Institute were as follows

"(a) To work for peace, goodwill, and practical Cooperation between the various sections of the population of South Africa.

(b) To initiate, support, assist and encourage investigation that may lead to greater knowledge and understanding of the racial groups and of the relations that subsist or should subsist between them.

(c) To co-operate with assist bodies and persons concerned with either or both of the two aforesaid objects

(d) To promote co-operation between such bodies and persons".

There have been four directors: John David Rheinallt Jones 1930-1947 (1930-1944 as Adviser), Quinton Whyte 1947-1970, Frederick Johannes van Wyk 1970-1980 and currently John Hees. Others who have contributed to the work of the Institute are Dr. E.H. Brookes, Dr. Ellen Hellmann, Professor R.F.A. Hoernle, Miss Muriel Horrell, Mrs Edith Rheinallt Jones, Donald Molteno, Maurice Webb and Mrs Maida Whyte. Distinguished Blacks associated with the Institute included Professor D.D.T. Jabavu, The Rev. E.E. Mahabane, Professor Z.K. Matthews, P.R. Mosaka, W.F. Nkomo and Dr. A.B. Xuma.

The Institute has many functions, one of its most important being the accumulation of factual data on the living conditions of the Black, Coloured and Asian peoples and their legal statue and civil rights. Enquiries range from ad hoc investigations of specific conditions to major research projects, often resulting in representations being made to government and local authorities and evidence being submitted to commissions. Amongst the Institute's publications are the annual Survey of Race Relation, quarterly Race Relations Journal (discontinued in 1962), monthly Race Relations News and the Handbook on Race Relations in South Africa, edited by Ellen Hellmann, first published in 1949 by Oxford University Press and reprinted by Octagon Books of New York in 1975.

A specialist library on race relations is provided at Auden House, Johannesburg, the Institute's headquarters, and the archives section has built up valuable collections of the papers of prominent individual's and the records at corporate bodies. Other tasks undertaken by the Institute are assisting various organisations to hold conferences, administering Trusts and educational bursary funds and, where necessary, providing services such as the Legal Aid Bureau 1938 Penal Reform League 1939, Bureau of Literature and Literacy 1946 and Domestic Workers and Employees project 1971.

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Relationships area

Related entity

Union of South Africa (1910-1961)

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Forms part of the archive of the SAIRR.

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