Professor Gert ‘Jakes’ Johannes Gerwel

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Biographical information


Author, teacher, leading intellectual, member of the ANC and Director-General in the presidential office of Nelson Mandela.

First name: 
Gert “Jakes”
Middle name: 
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
Location of birth: 
Kommadagga, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape)
Date of death: 
Location of death: 
Kuils River Hospital, Cape Town, Western Cape

Gert Johannes “Jakes” Gerwel was born on 18 January 1946 in the town of Kommadagga in the district of Somerset East, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape). He is the seventh of ten children of laborers on a sheep farm near Somerst East.While growing up on a sheep farm, Gerwel attended a church-based farm school, followed by secondary school at London Missionary Society Institution, and he eventually matriculated at Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth. Gerwel then attended University of Western Cape (UWC), where he began his passionate foray into his studies of the Afrikaner language.He earned a reputation for brilliance,completing an honors degree in 1968.He was awarded a scholarship to study in Belgium,he completed a PHD in liteture and philosophy at the Free University of Brussels in 1979.

He taught at Hewat Training College in CTbefore joining the faulty of UWChe was one of only two black UWC lectures at the time.In 1978 he was appointed UWC rector,a prolific author,Gerwel was eventually promoted to senior academic positions.In 1980 he was detained,he was one of the few UWCacademics who openly supported student struggles for democracy.As UWC's chief administrative officer,Gerwel took on the mission of guiding the university away from the apartheid educational model.After the African National Congress's (ANC) 1994 election victory Gerwel left academia to become President Nelson Mandela's chief of staff,secretary to the cabinet and special envoy.In1999,as Mandela's emissary,he successfully persuaded the Libyan government to surrender for trial two suspect implicated in the Lockerbie plane crash which had killed 259 people in 1988. After leaving government service Gewel served on many commissions,boards of public and private corporations and non-governmental organizations.

• Davis, R., (2012), 'Remembering Jakes Gerwel', from Daily Maverick, 29 November [online], Available at [Accessed: 29 November 2012]
Gerwel, J., 1991-1998. Padraig O’Malley’s Political Interviews, interviewed by Padraig O’Malley, Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
Gerwel, Jakes, (2000) ‘National Reconciliation: Holy Grail or Secular Pact?’ in Looking Back, Reaching Forward: Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, ZED Books, pp. 277-286
• Gruchy, John W. de, (2002), Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, (SCM Press: London), pp. 14-15 & 43.
• Trailblazer’s: South Africa’s Champions of Change, (Double Storey Books: Cape Town, 1999), pp.110-115.
• Independent Online News, (2012), ‘Prof Jakes Gerwel dies’, from Independent Online News, 28 November [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
• Mail & Guardian, (2012), ‘Mandela presidency’s DG Gerwel dies at 66’, from Mail & Guardian, 28 November [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
• Mail & Guardian, (1999), ‘A leading player on all fronts’, from Mail & Guardian, 19 February [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
• Monash University, (2012), ‘Prof Gerwel awarded Honorary Doctorate by Monash University’, 15 February [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
• news24, (2012), ‘The Life of Jakes Gerwel’, from news24, 28 November [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
• Palestine: Information with Provenance, ‘Gert Johannes (Jakes) Gerwel’, [online] Available at [Accessed: 27 November 2012]
• South African History Online, ‘Jakes Gerwel is born’, [online] Available at [Accessed: 27 November 2012]
• Sowetan LIVE, (2012), ‘Prof Gerwel dies, aged 66’, from Sowetan LIVE, 28 November [online], Available at [Accessed: 28 November 2012]
•  Gail M. Gerhart, Teresa Barnes, Antony Bugg-Levine, Thomas Karis, Nimrod Mkele .From Protest to Challenge 4-Political Profiles (1882-1990) (last accessed 28 November 2018)

Last updated : 28-Nov-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 28-Nov-2012

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