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Prof Gerwel dies at 66!

The 66-year-old professor was reported to be in a critical condition on Tuesday after he underwent heart surgery.

“The Gerwel family would like their privacy to be respected for the next couple of days. Funeral arrangements will be made known soon,” said family spokeswoman, Pam Barron, in a statement.

Professor GJ (Jakes) Gerwel was appointed as Global Chairman of Aurecon in 2009. Though he was a well respected political figure, he is first and foremost a renowned humanitarian who has been decorated by the likes of President Mandela for his exceptional service to South Africa.

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 Mandela in 1994-1999 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.

Gerwel has since continued to work closely with Mr Mandela, more recently in his role as 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. 

He was born on January 18, 1946 in the Eastern Cape town of Somerset East and matriculated from Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth.

In 1967, Gerwel graduated from the University of the Western Cape with a Bachelor of Arts degree and completed his honours a year later.

He grew up on a sheep farm and little did he know that one day he would become the right-hand man of South Africa’s first democratic president.

In the late 1960s Gerwel became involved in the Black Conciousness Movement, led by Steve Biko. He became an educational advisor to the South African Students’ Organisation (Saso) in the early 1970s.

For a short while, Gerwel lectured at the Hewat Teachers’ Training College in Cape Town and in 1971, he received a government scholarship to study at the University of Brussels.

Here he completed a licentiate (academic degree) in Germanic Philosophy and a literature doctorate.

When he returned to South Africa, he took up a teaching post at Grassy Park High School in Cape Town.

He later moved to the University of the Western Cape and became a lecturer.

In 1980, Gerwell was appointed a professor and just two years later a Dean of the Arts Faculty.

He was appointed vice-chancellor of the university five years later.

Gerwell’s political participation raised university eyebrows and before his appointment to permanent staff he received three probations.

During the 1980 education protests, Gerwel was detained by police.

Nine years later, he and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, together with fellow teacher Franklin Sonn, were arrested during a march in Cape Town.

In 1991, Gerwel was elected a member of the ANC’s Western Cape regional committee.

The University of the Western Cape on its website, said Gerwel saw an “unambiguous alignment with the mass democratic movement and a new edge to the academic project”.

It said that under the banner of “an intellectual home of the left”, space was created for curriculum renewal and for innovative research and outreach projects.

“Important social and policy issues, which had been swept under the carpet by the government of the day, thus received attention,” the university said.

It also formalised its “open” admissions policy, providing access to a growing number of African students.

He served as chairman for Media24, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, and chairman of the board of trustees for the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

He has also been a chairman of SAA and a chancellor of Rhodes of University.

A rugby and cricket lover, Gerwel was the chairman of the policy committee of the 2003 cricket World Cup.

He was married to Phoebe Abrahams and they had two children a daughter Jessie, a son Heinrich and four grandchildren.

City Press Editor Ferial Haffajee (@ferialhaffajee): “Professor Jakes Gerwel, a gentle man and an incisive thinker. What a life. Rest in peace.”

ANC Gwede Mantashe: “Prof Jakes Gerwel contributed a lot in the transformation of the country and institutions of Higher Learning.”

Jonathan Jansen (@JJ_UFS): “Rest in peace Prof Gerwel. You inspired a generation by linking academic excellence to political activism in ways that enhanced both”

Gaye Davis (@Gaye_Davis): “So sad to hear of Jakes Gerwel’s untimely passing. Man of vision, integrity and humility. Hamba kahle Jakes”

Imraahn Mukaddam: “As a youngster growing up in Belhar I remember Prof Jakes Gerwel as one of my clients on my newspaper route and he bought koesiesters from my sisters on Sunday mornings. Only later did I realise that I had rubbed shoulders with an intellectual giant who would be instrumental in the discourse that led to our transition to a new Democracy.

Hambe Kahle to this great man Hambe Kahle”.

At the time of posting, the Nelson Mandela Foundation or the family had not responded in sending messages of condolences.

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