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South Africa mourns Prof Jakes Gerwel

Academic, politician and humanitarian, Prof Jakes Gerwel
(Image source: Old Mutual)

Unisa joins South Africa in expressing its condolences on the death of distinguished academic and politician, Prof Jakes Gerwel, who died early on Wednesday, 28 November, at the Netcare Kuils River Hospital following heart surgery.

A leading light in terms of South Africa’s journey to democracy, his most famous roles were that of Director-General in the Office of President Nelson Mandela from 1994 to 1999, and Secretary of the Cabinet in the Government of National Unity. In this role, he was deeply involved in local and foreign politics, playing the role of advisor and confidant to the South African President during meetings with political figures from around the world, including Europe and the SADEC region.

Following this period, Gerwel continued to work closely with Mandela, more recently in the role of chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. In addition, he also served as director and chairman for a number of leading firms in South Africa. His work also focused largely on academic roles which included educational adviser to the SA Students’ Organisation, Chancellor of Rhodes University, and later as Rector of the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

He received numerous local and international awards, including the Order of the Southern Cross (Gold), awarded by Mandela in 1999, the Order of Good Deeds, presented by Muammar Qaddafi, also in 1999, and Freedom of the Town from Somerset East.

Tributes have begun streaming in from all corners. Amongst some of the tributes are those from government, academic institutions and organisations which Gerwel was associated with.

Expressing his condolences to Gerwel’s family and friends in a media statement, Acting CEO for Government Communication and Information System (GCIS), Vusi Mona said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Prof Gerwel. He played a significant role in shaping South Africa’s political history through his involvement in the Black Conscious Movement, led by Steve Biko. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased… Prof Gerwel will be solely missed by government, in academic circles, and by South Africans.”

Paul Hardy, CEO for Aurecon (providers of engineering, management and specialist technical services), said Gerwel (Aurecon’s Global Chairman) would be sorely missed and his passing was not only a loss for Aurecon, but also for South Africa. “During his 13-year history with Aurecon, Jakes had a very profound effect on our business, both in terms of strategic direction and the immense wisdom and presence he brought to each and every event, interaction and meeting he attended.”

Hardy added that, although Gerwel was a well-respected political figure, he was first and foremost a renowned humanitarian who made a very lasting, genuine impact on those he came into contact. “He was decorated by the likes of President Mandela for his exceptional service to South Africa, and in line with our group’s aim of building a vibrant and brighter future for all, many have said of Jakes that his passion was people.”

The UWC conveyed their tribute, saying the university and South African flags would fly high at half mast for one of their university’s greatest leaders who shaped both the institution’s future and that of higher education in South Africa. Gerwel was inaugurated as the Rector and Vice-Chancellor of UWC in 1987 at the height of apartheid in South Africa. He served at the University as the Rector and Vice-Chancellor for seven years.

Prof Brian O’Connell, current Rector and Vice-Chancellor of UWC, said the university would honour its former leader with a public memorial lecture. “I’m saddened by this painful loss. Jakes and I studied and worked together for many years. He was not only my colleague but my close friend. Our vibrant relationship dates back to the ‘60s when we were both student leaders at the University College of the Western Cape – now known as the University of the Western Cape. We have truly lost a great intellectual.”

The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, which Gerwel chaired, also conveyed condolences on behalf of former president, Nelson Mandela and members of the organisation. Gerwel led the Nelson Mandela Foundation Board of Trustees and staff through the recent transition to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Chief Executive of the Centre of Memory, Achmat Dangor, said: “We will miss his wisdom and calm guidance.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced by the family in due time.

* Story compiled by Rivonia Naidu-Hoffmeester

Additional information accessed from SA History Online and the Aurecon Group.

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