Home » The 10 most generous South African philanthropists of all time

The 10 most generous South African philanthropists of all time

by Omokolade Ajayi
Patrice Motsepe

In 2013, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe became the first African billionaire to join The Giving Pledge, promising to donate at least half of the funds generated by his family’s assets to uplift poor and other disadvantaged and marginalized South Africans.

No other South African billionaire has followed suit, but make no mistake: South Africa’s billionaires are very easily the most generous among their other wealthy counterparts across Africa.

For proof, look no further than the pro bono Solidarity Fund, created just days before the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 as a rapid response vehicle to mobilize South Africa in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The privately-managed Solidarity Response Fund started to solicit donations the day after South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the government’s seed funding, of which R100 million ($5.2 million) came from the National Treasury and R50- illion ($2.6 million) from the National Lotteries Commission.

Within days, South African billionaires, multimillionaires, corporations, and even ordinary citizens had pledged and donated more than $200 million – the bulk of which was provided by billionaire philanthropists like Mary Oppenheimer-Slack, who donated $57 million – one of the most significant philanthropic gifts in South Africa’s history.

We went digging to discover who the most generous philanthropists of all time in the rainbow nation are.

Here’s a rundown of South Africa’s 10 most generous Philanthropists of all time – both dead and alive – and their most significant philanthropic gifts.

1. Patrice Motsepe

Source of Wealth: Mining

Most Significant Donation: $250 million 

South Africa’s first Black billionaire is the first African to join Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes of their choice. In 2018, Motsepe pledged to donate $250 million through his Motsepe Foundation towards furthering South Africa’s land reform program. In March 2020, Motsepe contributed R1 billion ($57 million) to help fight COVID-19.

2. Allan W.B Gray

Source of Wealth: Financial Services 

Most Significant Donation: $150 million

The reclusive South African billionaire who passed away in November 2019 is arguably the most generous South African philanthropist ever.

In 2007, Gray, who founded his eponymous investment management firm, endowed his Allan Gray Orbis Foundation with $150 million.

Based in Cape Town, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation invests in the education and development of individuals with entrepreneurial potential within Southern Africa.

The foundation offers full high school scholarships that cover tuition, hostel fees, and living expenses at leading South African high schools.

3. Francois van Niekerk

Source of Wealth: Mertech Group, Investments

Most Significant Donation: $170 million

The founder of Mertech Group gave 70 percent of his equity (valued at $170 million) to his Mergon Foundation, which funds education, health, and skills-building initiatives.

4. Jannie Mouton

Source of Wealth: Financial Services 

Most Significant Donation: $82 million

Jannie Mouton is the billionaire founder of the PSG Group, a leading financial services firm in South Africa. In August 2017, he donated PSG Group shares worth $82 million to his philanthropic organization, the Jannie Mouton Foundation.

The Jannie Mouton Foundation engages in developmental activities and funds non-profit organizations that facilitate positive social change through education, training, and skills development.

The foundation aims to spend more than $6 million yearly in developmental activities and fund non-profit organizations that facilitate positive societal change.

5. Nicky Oppenheimer

Source of Wealth: Diamond Mining, Private Equity

Most Significant Donation: $57 million

During the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Nicky Oppenheimer donated R1 billion ($57 million) through his Oppenheimer Generations Foundation to establish the South African Future Trust (SA Future Trust).

The SA Future Trust supported small businesses throughout the COVID-19 crisis by providing direct financial support to businesses so that their employees could continue receiving an income through the lockdown period in 2020.

In addition, as a going concern, the SA Future Trust will support initiatives focusing on employment creation.

SA Future Trust will cease operations once all funds are disbursed and no later than Dec. 31, 2040. 

6. Johann Rupert

Source of Wealth: Mining

Most Significant Donation: $57 million 

In March 2020, South African billionaire Johann Rupert donated R1 billion ($57 million) to the solidarity fund set up by President Ramaphosa to provide financial assistance and aid to small and medium enterprises and employees negatively affected by the pandemic.

In addition, Rupert founded the non-profit organization Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, which celebrates and preserves master craftsmanship while strengthening its link to the design community.

It helps people rediscover human creativity by promoting the work of master European artisans who utilize centuries-old techniques and methods to create beautiful objects with lasting value.

7. Mary Oppenheimer- Slack

Source of Wealth: Mining

Most Significant Donation: $57 million 

The elder sister to Nicky Oppenheimer is also one of South Africa’s greatest philanthropists of all time.

In March 2023, she donated R1 billion ($57 million) to the Solidarity Fund established by President Ramphosa to mitigate the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the country’s most vulnerable communities.

8. Donald Gordon

Source of Wealth: Real Estate, Insurance

Most Significant Donation: $33 million

The late billionaire founded one of South Africa’s largest philanthropies, The Donald Gordon Foundation. He also donated $17 million to establish the Donald Gordon Teaching Medical Center at the University of Witwatersrand.

However, his most significant philanthropic gift – at least in public records, was in 2003, when he donated $33 million to The Royal Opera House and Wales Millennium Center.

9. Douw Steyn

Source of Wealth: Real Estate

Most Significant Donation: $21.7 million

Douw Steyn, a real estate tycoon and owner of Saxon Hotel, pledged R320 million ($21.7 million) in April 2020 to assist coronavirus relief efforts in South Africa.

The bulk of the money will be channeled toward supporting feeding schemes in low-income areas in the country.

10. Mark Shuttleworth

Source of Wealth: Digital Security, Venture Capital

Most Significant Donation: $20 million

In 1999, Mark Shuttleworth became one of the richest men in South Africa after he sold Thawte, a digital security company he founded, to Verisign for $575 million.

He was only 26 at the time.

He donated $20 million to The Shuttleworth Foundation, a purpose trust that provides funding for individuals actively involved in social change projects.

As of 2023, the Shuttleworth Foundation is closed for future funding opportunities.

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