Harry Oppenheimer Dies

August 21, 2000

Harry Oppenheimer Dies

Harry F. Oppenheimer, the South African gold and diamond magnate who served as chairman of Anglo American and De Beers for a quarter of a century, died Saturday in Johannesburg. He was 91.

Oppenheimer was known for his impact on the diamond industry. In 1938, he commissioned the first major promotional campaign for diamonds and diamond jewelry in the U.S. He set out to stabilize a fragmented and difficult market, build the image, desirability and magic of diamonds and stimulate demand. His action led to a steady expansion of the diamond market beyond affluent buyers. As chairman of De Beers, he steered the industry through the cyclical upheavals of booms and recessions and oversaw the transformation of the diamond industry with the development of diamond mines in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Beyond his involvement in the diamond industry, Oppenheimer used his wealth and influence to fight apartheid in South Africa. In the 1950s, he was actively involved in politics and became known as a respected opposition spokesman on economics, finance and constitutional affairs. While chairman of Anglo American and De Beers, he sought to improve the pay and conditions of his work force, championed the creation of black trade unions, developed education programs for black mine workers and was influential in ending the system that set aside certain jobs for whites only.

Oppenheimer retired as chairman of De Beers and Anglo American in 1984, but remained as director of De Beers until the end of 1994. He is survived by his wife, Bridget, son Nicholas, who is the chairman of De Beers, daughter Mary, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

- by Julia M. Duncan