Jakes Gerwel, 1946-2012

December 20, 2012

A leading academic, anti-apartheid campaigner and close colleague of Nelson Mandela has died.

Gert Johannes (Jakes) Gerwel was born in rural Somerset East, South Africa in 1946, and attended the University of the Western Cape (UWC). After graduating, he was awarded a scholarship to the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where he was to study for a doctorate in literature and philosophy before returning to lecture at UWC.

In 1980, he was appointed professor in the Afrikaans department, and three years later published his most significant academic work, Literatuur en apartheid: konsepsies van "gekleurdes" in die Afrikaanse roman tot 1948 (Literature and Apartheid: Conceptions of "Coloureds" in the Afrikaans Novel until 1948).

Professor Gerwel rose through the ranks at UWC, becoming vice-chancellor and rector in 1987. From that post, he led the rejection of the apartheid principles on which the university had been founded. The institution was originally a teacher training college for students who were not eligible for entry into "White" universities, but early in his term as vice-chancellor, Professor Gerwel defied government segregation policy and opened its doors to all races.

In 1994, he was recruited by Nelson Mandela to become the first cabinet secretary of the democratic government, and became a trusted sounding board for the president. He went on to chair the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, which awards postgraduate scholarships to talented students.

In 1999, Mandela bestowed the Order of Good Hope on Professor Gerwel for his prominent role in negotiating the surrender of two Libyan nationals accused of involvement in the bombing of a transatlantic jet above the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. It was also in 1999 that Professor Gerwel became chancellor of Rhodes University; a post that he held until his death.

Saleem Badat, vice-chancellor of Rhodes University, described Professor Gerwel as a "courageous, gifted and pioneering South African intellectual".

Writing on the university's website, he said that Professor Gerwel "will be fondly remembered and greatly missed as chancellor of Rhodes University. A humble, gentle man of great integrity with a lively mind and intellect, he was always a source of good judgment and wise counsel."

Brian O'Connell, rector and vice-chancellor at UWC, said: "We have lost a great intellectual at a time when our country sorely needs critical voices of reason and steadfast optimism like Jakes'."

Professor Gerwel died on 28 November, aged 66, of complications following heart surgery. He is survived by his wife, Phoebe, son Heinrich, daughter Jessie and four grandchildren.

chris.parr@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 10 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Business Development Officer YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
Lecturer in Linguistics YORK ST JOHN UNIVERSITY
Associate Professor/Professor EDINBURGH NAPIER UNIVERSITY

Most Commented

Brexit, EU referendum

Joanna Williams voted Leave, and has been left disappointed by the academy’s reaction to the EU referendum result

Elly Walton illustration (7 July 2016)

Researchers in the liberal arts seem to have made it their mission to communicate in the most obscure fashion, says Zachary Foster

Daniel Mitchell illustration (14 July 2016)

Frank Furedi says the mournful mood on campus and the disparagement and silencing of Leave supporters betray an isolated scholarly class

Michael Parkin illustration (7 July 2016)

Rising immigration-related costs and lack of employer support send an unwelcoming message to international staff, says Jason Danely

Huge eyes peering through door windows

Some scholars claim plans are more about improving staff visibility to students than brightening corridors