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Rhodes mourns the passing of its Chancellor

Date Released: Wed, 28 November 2012 11:59 +0200

Rhodes University mourns and lowers its flag on the passing of its Chancellor, Prof Gert Johannes (Jakes) Gerwel.

Prof Gerwel served as the Chancellor of Rhodes University for over 13 years, having been appointed to the position on 9 April 1999.

Born in Somerset East in 1946 and a graduate of Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth, he studied at local and international universities. He joined the University of Western Cape where he rose through the ranks to eventually become Vice-Chancellor in 1987.

Prof Gerwel’s Litertuur en Apartheid published in 1983 remains a key text in the Afrikaans and Southern African literature discourse. He also published a variety of monographs, articles, essays and papers on literary, educational and socio-political issues.

In 1994 he was recruited by previous president Nelson Mandela to become the first Cabinet Secretary of the democratic government. He went on to chair the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, which awards postgraduate scholarships to talented students.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat said that one of the first messages of condolence he received was from a retired Rhodes academic that said Prof Jakes Gerwel was ‘a good and great man. He will be hard to replace.’

Indeed, ‘he will be fondly remembered and greatly missed as Chancellor. A gentle man with a lively mind and intellect he was always a source of wise counsel. He will also be warmly remembered for the dignity with which he officiated at the University’s graduation ceremonies and capped thousands of graduating students.’

The numerous honorary doctorates awarded to Prof Gerwel and his extensive leadership roles in civil society and business organisations are testimony to the respect that he enjoyed in all quarters of society.

On accepting an honorary doctorate from Rhodes, Prof Gerwel said ‘universities are both central agents for change and steady beacons of continuity and tradition’. His leadership as Chancellor ensured that these twin and paradoxical goals received close attention.

Prof Gerwel was also a strong advocate of Rhodes University pursuing equity with quality and quality with equity. He took pride in the University’s academic achievements and performance in research and teaching and increasing community engagement.

To advance equity, the Jakes Gerwel Rhodes University Scholarship Fund was established to provide opportunities especially for disadvantaged students from the Eastern Cape.

The University expresses its deepest condolences to Prof Gerwel’s wife and wonderful companion, Phoebe, and the entire Gerwel family.

The University and South African flags at Rhodes will fly at half-mast until after the funeral service for Prof Gerwel.