Tributes pour in for Jakes Gerwel

29 November 2012

Tributes have been pouring in for Professor Jakes Gerwel, an important figure in South Africa’s struggle for liberation from apartheid and the director-general in former president Nelson Mandela’s office, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 66.

A distinguished academic and politician, Gerwel served as vice-chancellor of the University of the Western Cape from 1987 to 1994, and as chancellor of Rhodes University from 1999.

A close friend and associate of Mandela, Gerwel retired from politics when Mandela stepped down in 1999 after serving one term as president of South Africa, choosing to join Mandela in his post-presidential work.

President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday added his voice to those expressing their condolences to the family and friends of Gerwel. “We will sorely miss the tenacity and dedication of this distinguished academic and leader of our society,” Zuma said in a statement.

Former president Thabo Mbeki also paid tribute to Gerwel, describing him as “an outstanding South African who contributed to the country in a wide variety of fields, including literature, academia, politics, government, business and sport, particularly cricket, while remaining always very humble and self-effacing.”

Mbeki said in a statement that he had first got to know Gerwel when he was vice-chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, where he made an enormous contribution in transforming the institution and positioning it as “the home of the left” in South Africa.

“He therefore stood in the front ranks of those who helped to transform our centres of higher education into institutions which would use their concentrated brain power to contribute to the transformation of our country into a non-racial and non-sexist democracy,” Mbeki said.

As the first director-general in President Nelson Mandela’s office, Gerwel acted as a “pathfinder and dean” of South Africa’s post-apartheid civil service.

“With his wealth of experience, commitment and selfless dedication to public service, Prof Gerwel still had much to offer our country and people,” Mbeki said, adding that today’s civil servants would do well to study Gerwel’s example in order to “draw appropriate lessons in addressing the challenges of the civil service and the masses of the people it is meant to serve”.

A memorial service in honour of Gerwel will be held in the Main Hall, University of the Western Cape at 3pm on Saturday.

SAinfo reporter