Jennifer Oppenheimer – painting by Frances Kendall

Having now had time to reflect on her magnificent contribution to the Field Band Foundation (FBF), I would like to take a moment to mark the untimely death of Jennifer Oppenheimer.

Jennifer, who passed away peacefully on 16 May after a short battle with cancer, played an important part in helping the Field Band Foundation to become a youth development programme of national reach and relevance. At the time of her death at the young age of 50 she was surrounded by her husband Jonathan and their children Samuel‚ Isabel and Nathaniel.

On being told of Jennifer’s passing that week, the FBF’s Board of Directors stood in silent honour of her life; reflecting on its positive influence on so many young South Africans.

In his tribute our chairman, Brian Gibson, noted that the funding support from Jonathan and Jennifer Oppenheimer’s Isibindi Trust was but one among many significant contributions.

Jennifer’s guiding role helped to ramp up the Field Band Foundation from smallish beginnings in 1997 to one with a four-province footprint within 10 years, and then to national reach. This was especially so in her chairmanship of the De Beers Fund from 2002 to 2006, when De Beers moved from being a significant FBF sponsor, to becoming the Foundation’s foremost CSI funder, managed through Tshikululu Social Investments.

This is a partnership that the De Beers Group of Companies carries splendidly and with consistent engagement, an ever-closer collaboration that funds six full operations of 12 Field Bands at Blouberg, Kimberley, Kroonstad, Musina, Parys, and Viljoenskroon. It is accompanied with support by that company for our Johannesburg head office, professional De Beers Fund evaluations of our work on-the-ground, engagement with our management direction, the hosting of FBF guests at national events, and in communications support through De Beers’ corporate and public affairs unit.

That primary support is extended further, with funding for our inclusive Free State operations from the De Beers empowerment partner’s CSI trusts (Ponahalo De Beers), and in their parent company’s Anglo American Chairman’s Fund – the latter partnering the FBF in the six Field Bands at Kuruman, Thabazimbi, and Witbank. Along the way, these supporters, with the addition of Jonathan and Jennifer Oppenheimer’s family trust, have backed our work in Cullinan, Daniëlskuil, and Grahamstown. It is a remarkable journey of commitment, something that is so important for getting the most positive social returns, and for anchoring that for future generations.

Shying from any glory, Jennifer said in 2006 that the FBF deserved “most of the credit” for successes because of our “good work, unflagging efforts and indomitable spirit”. Yet much of what has been built comes off multiple partnerships that she heralded. Included are positive transformations of many young lives, included direct support over many years from Jonathan and Jennifer to provide air tickets for the FBF to annually send candidates to the intensive training in America’s outstanding Pioneer Drum & Bugle Corps. Our 2017 team left for Wisconsin this month.

Marking the Foundation’s 10th anniversary a decade ago, our then-chairman (now Johannesburg’s executive mayor), Herman Mashaba, publicly noted Jennifer’s critical role, but little could we know how it would endure and deepen.

In our 20th year, the FBF marks looks back on almost 50 000 members having passed through it, three-quarters of them for a minimum of three years each. Horizons of life’s opportunity have expanded beyond measure, in ways of inter-generational benefit.

They, with the thousands of today’s FBF, and those to yet come, are a significant cohort of a confident, young South Africa. This is just some of a positive dynamic owing much to the vision of a very special lady.

May it always bring a measure of solace to Jonathan, to their children, and to the broader Oppenheimer and Ward families.

Rest in Peace, dear Jennifer.

–          Nicolette du Plessis; Chief Executive Officer, Field Band Foundation NPC

(The accompanying picture of Jennifer Oppenheimer is reproduced with acknowledgement to its painter, Frances Kendall.)