We deserved a leader like Jakes Gerwel

2012-12-01 09:52

We have moved too quickly from our well-worn shoes to our Gucci loafers. And along the way, we lost our values and aspirations. Let us find each other and use the values of our past to build the bridge to our future, writes Heather Sonn, as she honours the memory of Jakes Gerwel.

It is true that we get the leaders we deserve. We deserved Jakes Gerwel.

To me, and to many others of my generation, he was someone who formed part of the foundation on which my life is built.

He not only lived to lay the foundations of values in our society, he exemplified them and led from the front.

He and others like him taught us the value of education, the value and inescapable merit of hard work, the importance of thoughtfulness in arguments and substance of character.

The men and women of all shapes, sizes and colours who filed through the open front door of our home in Belgravia Road to see our parents did not arrive in the latest model of a flashy car, or from communities they knew nothing about.

They conversed on matters of national importance, of benefit to communities, of principles and they played their part – in suits shiny from wear, jerseys torn at the elbows and in pairs of well-trodden shoes. It was substance over form.

As my brother and I sat at their feet and hung on their words, what mattered was the content of their message – it was purposeful, informed and carried a willingness to participate, to be active.

They also were fully alive to the context in which they functioned, fully aware of who would be affected and how, and the full weight of that responsibility.

The conversations, while always infused with a great deal of humour, were mostly about our country, our culture, our communities and our action. Talking was always about planning, and planning very quickly translated into action.

When the rubber bullets and tear gas flew in and around the University of the Western Cape and Pentech (as it was then called), Jakes Gerwel, my father (Franklin Sonn) and others were at the front.

When the police arrests ensued, they offered themselves up first. When students were taken, they would not be left behind. They led courageously and, most importantly, by example.

It was Che Guevara who said: “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Love leads to a connection with others, not “me at the expense of you”.

Love leads to a complete inability to “look away” from inequality, injustice and hopelessness, and inspires a compelling urge to do what you can with what you have. This sense of love is what inspires the ideals for which we are prepared to die.

Uncle Jakes was such a man. In his silent way, he was steely, uncompromising on what must be done and unconcerned with the cost in the interest of the greater good, a higher cause.

And so it came to be that the values they represented and demonstrated were the values we held dear, what we wanted in our leaders. When it was time to choose, we chose him and others like him who represented what we wanted to see in the world and what we wanted to support, fortify and replicate.

Where are these values today or sense of connectedness to our leaders and their values, and our society as a whole? I weep with a heavy sense of responsibility.

The younger generation is frustrated and, in many cases, without hope. The middle generation, the ones who arose out of the value system of materialism, capitalism, individualism and fear seem to have no check on how much is enough.

We moved too quickly from our well-worn shoes to our Gucci loafers. Without an emphasis on values, our aspirations became warped. These are not the values of sustainability.

I know this because when I heard the genuine rendition all around me, I knew it to be true.

So the weight of responsibility is not because of a lofty sense of what I might think I am capable of.

It is based on a belief that I can hold and share, in my own little way, the values – hard work, discipline, informed engagement and love – I know were at the genesis of our new-found freedom, but have not yet taken root in our society.

To the millions who grieve as I do today, let us find each other and use the values of our past to build the bridge to our future.

- City Press

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