‘He was a man who earned respect by the way he treated people’

2012-11-29 00:00

TO many people Prof Jakes Gerwel was an intellectual and an academic. A calm thinker and a great strategist.

He was all of that, but he was also a husband, a father and a grandfather. I often looked at his family with so much admiration for the love and dedication they shared. To me, he was a mentor and a father figure, a guardian and a friend.

I met Prof in 1994, when I started working in the Presidency. Those who knew him spoke highly of him. His title and the fact that he was the head of the Presidency were intimidating. Yet when one met Prof, he made you feel like an acquaintance.

He was a man who earned respect not through his titles and degrees, but by the way he treated people. Despite the authority he wielded with his calm demeanour, he never considered himself more senior than anyone. One instinctive..ly respected him.

I heavily depended on Prof throughout my years with Madiba. No matter what the hour or where we were, Prof was always just a phone call away. In Madiba’s post-presidential office, Prof became a patient mentor and guardian to me. He was always accessible and no matter how unimportant my story or question was, he always had time to listen. Whenever anything happened, Prof would be my first port of call. He never made me feel inferior and he was truly interested in the wellbeing of his colleagues and their families. Every issue he dealt with was approached with the utmost integrity and fairness.

We were reliant upon him for advice, order and discipline. He was a true friend and a father figure in the sense that I could share both my professional and personal concerns, and he was the one person who always gave me honest advice.

In addition to the many organisations, students and companies he guided, he was someone Madiba relied on heavily and trusted unconditionally, something he never wanted to take credit for.

Prof, I hope that somewhere in your brilliance you admitted to yourself how valuable you were to me, and in particular to Madiba and Mum. We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t take any credit. My only conciliation is that you are with Kader and Dullah now. My heart is broken for selfish reasons. Your love, support and guidance made me strong, but many times it also made me survive. I will miss sharing a good joke with you, gossiping, talking politics or you being my “phone-a-friend” during a Scrabble game I am about to lose. You left too soon, but our memories will live forever. I will treasure your wisdom and forever feel that I was privileged to have you bless my insignificant life.

Tot weersiens, my Prof.


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