“Once I began to rediscover my alma mater through the University of Cape Town (UCT) Trust, I was astounded to come face to face with the huge advances it had made, even during those dark years.” These are the words of UCT alumnus Sir Frank Berman KCMG QC, who has stepped down as the chairman of the UK-based UCT Trust.
The trust, established in 1990 by Dr Stuart Saunders during his time as vice-chancellor of UCT, has raised over £25 million (approximately R540 million) to date from corporations, foundations, alumni and friends, to strengthen infrastructure, fund research programmes and bursaries, and support outreach projects at the university.
Since its inception, the UCT Trust has been governed by a dedicated board of trustees comprising two-thirds prominent UCT alumni, a former high court judge, a recent UK High Commissioner to South Africa and a South African journalist and author.
Sir Frank Berman KCMG QC, who graduated from UCT in 1960 with a BSc in Mathematics and went on to become a renowned barrister and diplomat for the United Kingdom, served as the chairman of the board from 2009 up until the end of 2020.
He handed over the reins to fellow UCT alumnus Paul Kumleben at the end of last year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the handover took place without much fanfare. However, the momentous occasion was finally marked with a dinner in Berman’s honour at The Ivy Soho Brasserie in London in November.
During Berman’s time as chairman, the trust managed to secure more than £10.2 million in donations for UCT. A diverse range of projects and divisions have benefited from these funds. They include the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM), the Neuroscience Institute, the Schools Improvement Initiative (SII) and the UCT Opera School.
When asked about the highlights of his tenure, Berman said there had been almost too many to mention.
“Pride of place has to go to the outstanding response of UK-based alumni in their contribution to the Distinguishing UCT campaign, which was aimed at helping build the university’s capital endowment.”
“I do think, however, that pride of place has to go to the outstanding response of UK-based alumni in their contribution to the Distinguishing UCT campaign, which was aimed at helping build the university’s capital endowment,” he said.
Berman added that he is also particularly proud of the role the trust has played in maintaining and developing UCT’s long and highly valued relationship with the Wolfson Foundation, including the conferment of an honorary doctorate on the late Lord Wolfson at a ceremony at SA House in London.
“For my wife and I, a very special place is held by a series of events over the years at prestige locations at which superbly talented young singers enthralled audiences with a display of the quality which the UCT Opera School produces year after year,” Berman said.
Prior to his chairmanship, he had served on the UCT Trust’s board since 2000. During this time, he played an integral role on the coordinating committee for the Golda Selzer Memorial Fund Appeal. The appeal was launched to commemorate the work of the late Golda Selzer and to establish the Golda Selzer Community Health Centre in Khayelitsha. Berman was the driving force behind fundraising in the UK, as well as a major donor to the fund. The UK raised some £25 300 towards the centre, which was officially opened by Berman in November 2006.
Reflecting on UCT’s development
Although, as Berman put it, his graduate years lie a long way back, “almost a slice of historical time”, he retains a fierce loyalty for his alma mater and a passion for seeing it thrive.
Berman said he remembers the UCT of his youth as a lively place, which offered a wide choice of study and extramural activity. Even though UCT was not considered a global leader at that stage, he found that the education he received there stood him in good stead as he went on to study at the University of Oxford in the UK.
“My affection for UCT, pride in its achievements, and willingness to help where possible will be just as strong after I’ve left the board as they were before.”
“Once I began to rediscover my alma mater through the UCT Trust, I was astounded to come face to face with the huge advances it had made, even during those dark years, in the range, scope and reputation of its research activity in particular – so much of it in the front line of areas of current international concern,” said Berman.
“In those days it would have been unthinkable, had world university rankings existed, that UCT would occupy a leading place on them; now we’re almost at risk of taking it as given that it will.”
Berman’s tenure was celebrated during a special dinner at The Ivy Soho Brasserie in London, on Wednesday, 24 November 2021.
In his welcome speech, Kumleben said: “Frank has been remarkably successful in promoting UCT and the trust, both in the UK philanthropic community and among UK alumni. During his tenure the number of alumni donors has increased three-and-a-half-fold, with the annual total received from alumni trebling during that time.”
Kumleben also presented Berman with an original Zapiro cartoon as a gift from the board of trustees.
Although Berman will be stepping down from his position on the board, he will remain a trustee until his term ends.
“My affection for UCT, pride in its achievements, and willingness to help where possible will be just as strong after I’ve left the board as they were before,” he said.
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