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Aanon Michael Rosholt (1920 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

Aanon Michael Rosholt (1920 - ) Awarded for:
His keen sense of justice; his indelible mark in fostering black trade unions and pioneering non-racialism in the workplace.

Profile of Aanon Michael Rosholt

Aanon Michael Rosholt was born in Johannesburg on 13 November 1920.

Rosholt earned his reputation as a visionary business leader who was critical of the evil system of apartheid.

He is widely commended for his foresight that business could not be conducted in an environment of racial clashes and discriminatory legislation. One of the first business leaders to recognise the union movement, he committed his professional life to fighting injustice and apartheid in the country.

He is best remembered for his bold remarks in 1981 that black trade unions “must be seen as bodies which can possibly defuse labour problems”. He is renowned as a pioneer of non-racialism in the workplace.

While many elites who benefited from the apartheid regime were silent about racial discrimination, he advocated the integration of educational facilities across all South African races. True to his beliefs, his company increased salaries and established 45 literacy centres to foster the development of black employees. In this regard, he has worked tirelessly towards a better South Africa in the fields of education, housing, job creation and small businesses. Recognised as a business giant among his peers, he is a loved elder whose honesty of purpose and commitment to a democratic South Africa gave him the strength over decades to champion non-racialism in the private sector.

In 1979, he became chairperson of Barlow Rand, one of South Africa’s major industrial corporations. During his tenure at the Barlow Rand Corporation, he encouraged top executives to undertake public service duties, a culture that still exists in the company.

Rosholt worked with Sam Motsuenyane, one of the founding fathers of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry to establish support structures for small black business in the mid-1980s.

He was chairperson of the Urban Foundation in the mid-1980s and also became chairperson of the National Business Initiative NBI) in 1993, until his retirement in 2007. Under his leadership, the NBI championed one of South Africa’s ground-breaking initiatives in response to crime, Business Against Crime, which has since developed into a separate organisation.

At the time when the country was on the verge of a new democratic dispensation, he pioneered an innovative initiative aimed at the development of education. As a result, he became founding chairperson of the Joint Education Trust in 1992, a collaboration between business, unions and political parties that mobilises resources to address challenges in education.

Rosholt is a visionary who made business leaders aware that the future success of business in a democratic society would depend on skilled and educated employees as well as good relations with the government.

Rosholt believed that education was a central tool that could help business in a new democratic society to deal with new trends. In this regard, he lobbied 14 leading South African companies to provide R500 million towards education, which he had foreseen as a possible challenge for the new government. In 1996, he received an honorary doctorate in Law from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Even in his retirement, Rosholt has contributed significantly to redressing the damage caused by apartheid by working in development organisations and he stands out as an exemplary figure with the highest values of public service. Through his work, Rosholt has inspired many young people in the private sector by seeking ways to advance the national interest towards a common goal for the development of South Africa.

Aanon Michael Rosholt could have chosen profit over the rights of employees and community service. Instead, he demonstrated tremendous courage, fighting for equality. Rosholt has contributed extensively to the development agenda of the country through many trusts and non-governmental organisations that focus on social and economic development issues.