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Leaders pay tribute to Gerwel’s many virtues

Cape Town - A who’s who of dignitaries, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel, former president FW de Klerk and Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel, were among hundreds of people who turned out on Saturday to pay tribute to activist and professor Jakes Gerwel.

Hailed as a man who “lived the values that he expected from the rest of us”, Gerwel died on Wednesday following triple bypass surgery. His memorial was held on Saturday at the University of the Western Cape, where he spent most of his working life.

Graca Machel, wife of Nelson Mandela, centre, sits beside Elita de Klerk, wife of former president FW de Klerk, right, during Jakes Gerwel's memorial. Photo: Leon Lestrade. Credit: WEEKEND ARGUS

His son Hein said on Saturday that his fondest memory of his father was playing cricket with him in the backyard.

“He was a big cricket fan and his advice to me was to always play it straight, whether it was in cricket or in life. He also taught me his own beliefs, such as focusing on what bound us together as human beings, instead of what divided us,” he said, thanking everyone for joining “us to celebrate the life of my friend and father”.

Manuel

described Gerwel as a humble man, who stayed out of the spotlight.

“If I were to speak of Emeritus Professor Gert Johannes Gerwel, few would know who I was actually referring to. Just plain Jakes was adequate – never professor, Mr, sir or Dr – Just Jakes.

“It speaks volumes about the man, his demeanour and integrity.”

Manuel said Gerwel’s style was devoid of any preaching or pontification.

“He lived the values that he expected from the rest of us,” he said, adding that he would most miss Gerwel when times were tough and his “sharp and perceptive intellect” and “calm reassurances” were needed.

Manuel also read out a special message on behalf of Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel:

“Jakes was part of our everyday lives for 18 years. He was a confidante, a son and family member to all of us. His wisdom and leadership will be sorely missed. He touched many, many lives, and it is difficult to find words to describe who and what Jakes was.”

Writer, academic and close personal friend Njabulo Ndebele spoke fondly of Gerwel, lightening the mood when he joked about his hairstyles.

“When I first met him in Soweto he sported an afro style, indicating he was an activist with a purpose. I’ve looked at the hair many times since then, and seen it transform into a push-back silvery grey of enormous dignity.

“He possessed an inward gaze, always analysing the world around him. He had this ability to make people feel wanted and touched many.”

David Kramer performed a rendition of his song So Long Skipskop in honour of Gerwel.

Tutu closed the memorial with a prayer, joking that he was only there because he had a hotline to “you know who”.

Gerwel was chancellor of Rhodes University and a former director-general in the Presidency. He was also the cabinet secretary during Mandela’s term in office.

He sat on a number of boards and was the chairman of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

Gerwel is survived by his wife, Phoebe, children Hein and Jessica, and four grandchildren.

A moment of silence for retired Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who died on Saturday, was also observed at the memorial.

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