A Tribute to Gerald Kraak: Visionary and Founder of the Other Foundation
Gerald Kraak passed away on 19 October 2014. Carla Sutherland, a founding board member of the Other Foundation and friend of Gerald’s, pays tribute to him on behalf of the Other Foundation.
Gerald first talked about establishing a community foundation to ensure the sustainability of LGBTI work in South Africa more than ten years ago. We’ve got to think ahead, he used to urge. What’s going to happen when Atlantic and other international donors leave? It was hard to get activists to focus on an imagined crisis a decade away when they already had their heads fully engaged in contemporary ones. But Gerald doggedly pursued it, with increasing urgency as he led the process of Atlantic’s spend down and exit in South Africa. He hired great consultants and strategists, who criss crossed the country and the globe to transform his vision into a pragmatic project. He carefully managed the complicated politics of a small sector with too few resources to get people behind a unified idea. He used all his years of experience as a grant maker to mould a proposal that matched a distant Board’s legitimate concerns about fiscal responsibility with the demands of a principled political movement. And he also fiercely rose to the challenge to demonstrate that the proposed foundation could demonstrate a capacity to raise funds beyond international institutional donors.
We were friends first, but also colleagues on the Global Philanthropy Project (GPP) which brought together institutional donors who were funding LGBTI human rights work in the global South. In partnership with GPP, Gerald pressed ahead with an ambitious agenda to bring a range of high net-worth individuals to South Africa to experience for themselves the creativity, energy and commitment of activists in the Southern African region who were working to advance the rights and well-being of LGBTI people, in the most hostile of contexts. I don’t think any of us truly understood the amount of work that Gerald, supported by his dedicated and wonderful colleague Jann Otto in South Africa and Katherine Pease in the United States, did to pull off the tour. The 17 participants from the US and Europe were able to meet with more than 70 activists from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. They met with refugee organizations in the informal settlements of Cape Town; heard about the wider challenges of gender based violence and how it linked to LGBTI rights; saw the range of cultural work and religious outreach that was happening in even the most remote of rural areas; learnt about the impact of strategic litigation and the challenges of advocacy and educational outreach; and spoke intimately with South African icons like Edwin Cameron and Cheryl Carolus. And at the end of the tour, we had pledges of more than 3 million rands that provided the necessary demonstration for the vision of the foundation to move forward.
But the demands of the tour, that Gerald so wanted to be the success that it was, took a huge toll on him. In retrospect, it’s clear that he was already very ill by that stage. One of the final grants that he presented to the Board of Atlantic Philanthropies was for $5 million for the establishment and start up of the Other Foundation. It was grant that he took enormous pleasure and quiet pride in. Not for himself – but for the recognition of the importance of the work of the sector. He sometimes worried that people would think that his dedication came from the fact that he was gay. I would have done this even if I had been straight, he would lament. When Atlantic was setting up, he said, our brief was to find the most pressing human rights issues in the country that were being overlooked. It was clear from all the consultations and research that we did that LGBTI people were amongst the most marginalized and stigmatized. I believe him. He paid easily as much attention to his other priority areas – particularly refugees and migrants. And even in those areas he worked beyond purely professional boundaries, as shown by his collection of Zimbabwean art works, that he purchased primarily to support individual refugees struggling to survive in South Africa.
Darlings! We did it! He announced to Phumi Mtetwa and I, after the founding Board of the Other Foundation had constituted itself, close to ten years after he had first conceived of the idea. Bloody nearly killed us – but we did it, he said as we sat in his flat in Killarney over a celebratory glass (or three) of whiskey. His ‘we’ was generous. I can’t speak for Phumi, but I know I would never have had the tenacity to see it through all the hurdles he encountered, or the self-conviction to push through the criticisms. Every set back was met with a commitment to find a creative way around it; every barb with a gentle shrug of the shoulders and an empathy about where it might have came from. His greatest delight, however, was reserved for our first round of grant-making. He loved the range of proposals that came in; he was so excited about the possibilities of new work and approaches; he was energized particularly by the cultural and research work proposed. Of course, he wanted to fund them all.
It seems so incredibly unfair that he won’t be here to see his vision flower into all that it will be. It will be different from what he imagined: but he knew that and celebrated it, as he believed that all the best projects flourish when they are supported by grant makers who can risk managing with a very light touch.
He had so many plans that he was looking forward to post Atlantic: finishing his second novel; writing up a history of the LGBTI movement in South Africa; looking at how social movements are developing amongst young people in the Western Cape; becoming an expert bird watcher; finding the love of his life to grow old with. Sweetie, he would say, if you were a gay man I would marry you! Nonsense, I would snort. If I were a gay man you would want me to look like an olympic swimmer, speak five languages, understand Mahler while knowing all the words of every Abba hit; be willing to dance with you to ‘It’s Raining Men’; and be able to be as comfortable in a refugee camp as in a 3 star Michelin restaurant in Provence. He’s out there, I would say. But he’s not going to appear until you’re willing to make time to let him in.
In the end, Gerald made a different set of choices. He dedicated himself to making his South Africa a better place for all of us. He did it with all the love and passion and commitment that he might have given to a lover and a partner. I’m saddened by that personal cost but know that he led the life that he wanted, had enormous pleasure in doing it, and I’m proud of the legacy he’s left. I feel privileged to have worked with him and contributed to some of the projects he cared deeply about. I loved him dearly. And I will miss him always.