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Franklin Sonn (1939 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

Franklin Sonn (1939 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to education and the course of justice in South Africa.

Profile of Franklin Sonn

Dr Franklin Sonn was born on 11 October 1939 at Vosburg, in the Karoo, and grew up in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape and later in Cape Town. Both his parents were educators with a long record of active involvement in public affairs. It is no wonder that Sonn followed closely in the footsteps of his parents who instilled in him the importance of justice and the power of having knowledge. Sonn would spend the entirety of his adult life living out this philosophy of fighting for justice, freedom and equality in the face of serious odds from the apartheid establishment.

He received his BA Honours from the University of Western Cape. He also was conferred honorary doctorates from numerous prestigious international institutions of higher learning, among them Howard University in Washington and Baruch College, the City University of New York.

A teacher by training, Sonn has a long history of imparting knowledge to young people. In 1974, he was appointed principal of Spes Bona, Athlone. In 1977, he became rector of Cape Town’s Peninsula Technikon. He was also president of the Cape Teachers' Association of South Africa.

As a member of various professional associations, Sonn directed his energy towards the needs of the community and various business organisations. During this time, he cultivated his political skills. In 1992, he was on the Jimmy Carter team monitoring Zambia’s general election and in 1994 he campaigned for the African National Congress in the Western Cape elections. In 1995, he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s ambassador to the United States where he served for three years.

Before his departure for the USA, Sonn served on the Boards of seven major South African banks and business organisations. He was the co-founder and full-time director of New Africa Investments Limited and Corporate Africa Investments until 1994. It was one of the largest black-led companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange with assets of approximately $2,5 billion.

His immense business acumen has been on the up and up. He currently serves on the boards of many companies, including AbsaGroup Ltd, Sappi Ltd, Steinhoff International Holdings Ltd, Pioneer Food Group (Pty) Ltd, Macsteel Service Centres SA (Pty) Ltd, RGA Reinsurance Co of SA, Safmarine (Pty) Ltd, and Esor Ltd. Sonn is also chairperson of the Airports Company of SA Ltd, Piazza Park (Pty) Ltd, Kwezi V3 Engineers (Pty) Ltd, Xinergistix (Pty) Ltd, Imalivest (Pty) Ltd, African Star Ventures (Pty) Ltd and Cape Star Investments (Pty) Ltd.

He is chancellor of the University of the Free State, a member of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Advisory Board and former president of the Afrikaanse Handelsinstituut. He previously served on the Metropolitan Board from April 1983 to March 1995.

Not withstanding the suffocating air of apartheid oppression, Sonn became one of the most respected national figures in South Africa. He contributed immensely to the dream of African regeneration through various means without being fazed by the daunting number of organisations he served. He has contributed to the betterment of education throughout his professional life.

Franklin Sonn has been married to Joan Heather Gelderbloem for 20 years. They have two children: Crispin, a business entrepreneur, and Heather, an investment banker.