Dr Hans Merensky’s legacy was probably formed during the fourth chapter of his life which began in 1930 and lasted until about 1949.1 This period was characterised by an almost breathtaking burst of creativity. He bubbled with new ideas and, because he was financially independent, he was able to pursue those ideas and realise his plans.
The biggest event of this period (and a turning point in his life) was the fact that he purchased Westfalia. From then on, rehabilitating the farm and developing it into a model farm became the focus of his energies. Because he was unmarried and has no immediate relatives who could inherit his estate, Dr Merensky began to think about his legacy early on. He wanted his farm to continue, and hoped that the multitude of different projects he had started would be completed. He wanted this development work to benefit South Africa as much as possible. He thought about this for a long time and sought advice from his lawyers. In the end, he drafted a testament that Ian Sholto Douglas cast into the necessary legal form. He handed over 90% of his fortune to the Hans Merensky Trust while he was still alive, and designated the Trust as the heir of the remaining 10%. His four closest confidants were appointed as trustees.
The transfer of the investments to the Trust was subject to two essential stipulations:
- Firstly, the appointment of the Trust as the proprietor of Dr Merensky’s enterprises was only a temporary arrangement. After at least ten years, and after no more than 25 years, the Trust should be formed into a foundation. Merensky chose this time interval because he believed that the farm would only have developed into its final structure at that time. He wanted the Trust to be changed into a foundation because nobody could predict the economic, political and social conditions under which the Trust would have to operate in a few years’ time.
- Secondly, he stipulated that after his death all the projects he had initiated had to be continued for at least another ten years. This reflected Merensky’s personal conviction and experience that in agricultural enterprises one had to think about the longer term and should not give up too early. In the years leading up to the transformation of the Trust into the Hans Merensky Foundation, the Trust was also to expand the capital surplus so there would be enough resources available to the Foundation.
The mandate of the Foundation was broken up into core activities, the purposes of which were defined very carefully, and an expanded set of activities which would allow the Foundation managers more freedom of action. The core activities included research on the prevention of soil erosion and the improvement of South African soils, particularly by introducing natural mineral materials such as vermiculite; research on the cultivation of citrus at various elevations; and experiments in breeding and cross-breeding European cattle with African breeds, to combine the higher meat and milk production of the first with exceptional resistance to various diseases of the latter.
The extended activities allowed the trustees or the later Board of Directors of the Foundation more freedom to decide on what it wanted to do. Thus the Foundation could decide to support foreign research on matters relating to agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, medicine, ore geology, mining technique and chemistry, in so far as they serve the interests of “general progress” (a term Merensky liked to use).
Moreover, two funds were to be financed and overseen. One was to support the training of students and practitioners of all races, the other the erection and maintenance of appropriate schools, training and welfare institutions to do this.
Merensky and his designated trustees signed his testament and the trustee documents late one evening in May 1949, on his farm in Kalkfontein.
1. From Eberhard W. Machens. Platinum, gold and diamonds: The adventure of Hans Merensky’s discoveries. Protea Book House Publisher. 2009. Available at www.proteaboekhuis.co.za.