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Between profit and philanthropy

This is an introduction to a book that I am currently writing. There is much more work to be done before my manuscript is completed, let alone edited.  Any comments or reflections on this will be gratefully accepted.

Steve Biko (1946-1977), the black anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement was callously murdered by the South African police. He was born ten years after my great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) died in South Africa.

At first sight, there would appear to be little to link a German Jewish immigrant, such as Franz was, with a martyr to the cause of freedom of the black people in South Africa. However, there is a connection. Biko was born, and also lived in, an African ‘township’ in King Williams Town, a major industrial town in the eastern part of the Cape Province. Steve’s birthplace, Ginsberg Township, was named to honour my great-grandfather. The founding of this township and (others like it) marked a significant stage in the evolution of apartheid, an evil which Biko and his colleagues strove to combat.

Ginsberg arrived in South Africa aged eighteen with a basic education, and then began work as a photographer’s assistant. Within a few years, he became one of King Williams Town’s leading industrialists. Soon after that, he entered local, and then national politics. By 1927, he was awarded with South Africa’s highest honour: he was elected a Senator.

He left Germany both to seek his fortune and also to escape anti-Semitic persecution. In his adopted country, South Africa, he found himself privileged to be a white man accepted by others on the basis of merit rather than religious beliefs. Unlike many – if not most – of his white contemporaries in South Africa who regarded non-white people as members of an inferior species worthy of suppression and servitude, Ginsberg regarded them as fellow human beings. There is no doubt that he felt that the ‘white man’ should remain in charge in South Africa, and not risk being in competition with people whose background was not European.  However, he was a man of conscience with great sympathy for his non-white neighbours. During his life in South Africa, he tried hard and earnestly to balance his interests in safeguarding the advantages of the white people against his desire to ease the lot of their severely disadvantaged non-white neighbours.

My forthcoming book, which is at an early embryonic stage in its life, will describe the many-faceted life of my great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg – a patriotic capitalist with a philanthropic heart.

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Between profit and philanthropy


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