Ahmed Kathrada pays tribute to Prof Jakes Gerwel

November 29, 2012


By Ahmed Kathrada

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Professor Gerwel. Our hearts go out to his family, colleagues, comrades and friends.
We first heard of Prof Gerwel while we were on Robben Island. His involvement in the University of the Western Cape was initially criticised by some, who regarded it as a “bush college”. However, with the passage of time, he was credited with transforming the institution into the “People’s University”. His commitment to education for all, and his championing of the ideals of non-racialism, paved the way for many to excel and become leaders in their own right.
I first met Prof Gerwel in 1993 when he and his colleagues invited me to open a Robben Island exhibition in Cape Town. Our years of close association began when he was appointed Director-General, and Cabinet Secretary during President Mandela’s presidency; I was Parliamentary Counsellor in the Office of the President. We worked closely together for five years. It was the very first time that a person who was not white was given such a senior position in government.
Prof Gerwel acquainted himself with distinction and his association with President Mandela continued almost literally until a couple of months before his death. I also had the privilege of serving as Trustee of the Mandela Foundation under Prof Gerwel’s chairmanship. In all our interaction, I found him to be a brilliant, caring, modest and committed person. He was quickly able to master the capacity to face the challenges before us. He was decisive, and where necessary, did not allow formalities to stand in his way.
Prof Gerwel’s family, his colleagues, comrades and his country as a whole will be poorer because of his passing. He indeed was a champion of non-racialism and a man who believed in the power of good leaders to transform society. We will miss his leadership, his commitment, his brilliance and his humanity. He leaves behind a rich legacy that needs to be emulated by all.
Issued by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, November 28 2012
Source: Politics Web

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