Regions South Africa

Helping Forge Democracy from the Pain of Apartheid

The 1990s were pivotal years in South Africa. First came Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, followed by his election as president in 1994. Two years later, Mandela signed a new South African constitution, hailed as one of the most progressive in the world—a remarkable achievement for this once repressive nation.

The “prospect of a new era” drew Atlantic to South Africa, according to Harvey Dale, Atlantic’s founding president. Dale, who initiated the foundation’s work the country in 1991, saw the opportunity to be “engaged in a potentially game-changing period in a society emerging from apartheid repression.” In its first years, Atlantic focused on helping aspiring young black South African attorneys get law degrees as well as clerkships on the new multiracial Constitutional Court.

In later years, Atlantic’s founder Chuck Feeney initiated investments in South Africa to boost health services and research at historically disadvantaged higher education institutions. In 2002, Atlantic opened a regional office in Johannesburg.

By 2015, Atlantic’s investments totaled nearly $357 million, funds that were used to build, strengthen and advance democratic institutions and organizations that promote equity, opportunity, dignity and democracy, and that have scored major victories in improving the lives for the country’s least advantaged people.

In 2016, we announced two fellowship programs: The Atlantic Fellows for Racial Equity will support leaders committed to dismantling anti-black racism in South Africa and the United States, two nations with deep and enduring legacies of racial exclusion and discrimination. The Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity will help innovators bridge the gap between rich and poor and build a healthier South Africa for all. Learn more about Atlantic Fellows >
Watch: A look back at Atlantic's work in South Africa

From 1991–2015, Atlantic invested nearly $357 million to advance justice, equality, education and health in an emerging democracy.

44% increase in the number of nurses between 2005 and 2011

2m South Africans with access to HIV antiretrovirals by 2013

$1b pledge by government to improve schools in the Eastern Cape