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History of the Institute

"The South African Institute of Race Relations was born in a climate of thought utterly different from that of today. White rule had been firmly imposed over vast areas of the globe. In Africa the only independent states apart from the Union of South Africa were Egypt, Ethiopia, and Liberia." Ellen Hellmann, The South African Institute of Race Relations: A Short History

When the Institute was established in 1929 it was the first national multiracial organisation to work for goodwill and to conduct research into race relations. The constitution adopted in 1932 defined its objective as:

"... to work for peace, goodwill, and practical co-operation between the various sections
and races of the population of South Africa"

From its inception the Institute concentrated on the investigation of social and economic conditions. It sought to find the hard facts about the standard of living of disadvantaged groups, to create public awareness of these facts, and thereby to promote interracial understanding.

From 1933 the Institute produced a quarterly Race Relations Journal which contained articles by the leading economists, political analysts, and sociologists of the day. From 1936 it produced a monthly eight-page newsletter called Race Relations News which contained reports, articles, and comments on recent events (In 1991 this was replaced by Fast Facts.) From 1947 it produced the annual South Africa Survey which is still published today.

The Institute spoke out clearly and unequivocally against apartheid policies. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Institute found itself in growing opposition to government policy designed to ruthlessly establish a racially segregated society. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the Institute was increasingly involved in protest politics as well as running a number of projects such as Operation Hunger and a bursary programme which it continues to operate today.

The Institute has throughout its history been attacked by various groups threatened by its existence. Conservative whites have seen it as a threat to the historical status quo. Militant blacks and whites have rejected its conciliatory stance. It has believed throughout its history, as it does today, that a secure and peaceful future can be built only on the principle of one South African nation of different racial and ethnic groups, each allowed to maintain its own cultural identity, all united in a common loyalty, but all tolerant of diversity and dissent.

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