MIDDELMANN, Hans (Commencement Ceremony, University of Cape Town, 24 June 1988)
Hans Middelmann was born in Berlin in 1912 and educated there and in Leipzig. His father, who had had a spell in London himself, sent him to work in London for a year. he attended the London School of Economics as an occasional student, hearing people such as Ghandi and Nehru at the Round Table Conference, G. B. Shaw and Hayek, absorbing ideas that reacted with the metal that was already in him.
When he returned to Germany he found a place in a private bank, owned by a friend of his father. The owners were Jews, and over the four years the young 19 year old German Middelmann was to see the effect of Nazism on people that he worked with and for. It became apparent to him and to his elder brother that things were happening which they could not stomach, and that they must therefore leave Germany. It was a striking decision when one remembers what life and the future must have looked like to the young gentile Germans of that time, intoxicated by nationalism. But there were not many places one could go to: South Africa was one of the few whose requirements were minimal and whose doors were open, and by 1937 Hans had followed his brother to this country. He came on a visitor's visa, and it was an irony and a sign of things to come that when he arrived the law had been changed as the result of disturbances caused by agitators, led by a young Hendrik Verwoerd, against the admission of Jews to the country. That law caught Hans Middelmann too and he had a long battle to convert his visitor's visa to an immigrant visa.
He began work for Inter-union Finance Ltd. of Cape Town, starting at humble level and working his way up to the managing directorship from 1959 to 1970. It was his base for all his activities. it thrived under his guidance. From that base he extended in four ways: first to the Junior Chamber of Commerce, after the war to the Cape Town Chamber of Commerce, becoming President in 1959/60, and from there to the Association of Chambers of Commerce of South Africa, of which he became president in 1961/62. The second way was to the boards of many companies where he played important roles, most particularly of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society, whose board he chaired for 10 years, of Garlicks, of the Standard Bank, the Standard Bank Investment Corporation, and the Standard Merchant Bank; more recently of the Tongaat Group in Natal. These appointments were tributes to the respect he elicited. The conviction, vision and integrity that have characterised all his doings were displayed just as much in these business financial activities as elsewhere. he had imagination, was innovative, and pioneered new practices of which an example is his negotiation of the first major lease-back operation in South Africa. It is noteworthy that he was President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce whilst still classified, as he was during the war, as an enemy alien exempt from internment.
A third way that he extended himself was in his service to this University. Hans Middelmann was elected to the Council of the University in 1973, to be a member of the Baxter Theatre Board in 1975, and he has been Chairman since 1980; as a trustee of the UCT Foundation in 1976 and he has been Chairman since that same year. Councils of universities are excellent, or adequate, or poor, by virtue of their having on them men and women of wisdom, integrity and vision, the greatly respected persons quoted with satisfaction or chagrin when difficult issues are debated. None who has served on the UCT Council will fail to recognise Hans Middelmann as fitting that description exactly, and to hold dear a person who, now with a twinkle in his eye, now with a glint of conviction, plays so important a part in its governance of this University.
There is a last and important direction in which Hans Middelmann extended himself. From the time in London when Hayek inspired him, hans Middelmann wished to make his contribution to liberal thought. In Cape Town he met at theEconomics Society, the Dean of Commerce Professor W. H. Hutt, who continued his education. It was he who advised Hans Middelmann - "Do not register for a BCom, look - here are 4 tickets to the University library, take them and go and read everything you can." And so, apart from the odd course, that is what Hans Middelmann did, reading widely and deeply, much influenced by Karl Popper but developing his own ideas, and writing about them, of freedom, of economic liberalism, of constitutional development, of new structures to accommodate an open society.