Jakes Gerwel 2008


Gert Johannes (Jakes) Gerwel was born on 18 January 1946 in the Kommadagga area, near Somerset East. His parents had limited education, but started a small farm school, determined that their children should receive a good education.  His secondary education was at Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth and Dower Memorial College in Uitenhage. After completing his matric, he went on to study at the University College of the Western Cape where he received his BA degree in 1967 (majoring in Afrikaans-Nederlands and Sociology), and in 1968, his honours degree in Afrikaans-Nederlands, both cum laude.

e then taught Afrikaans at the Hewitt Training College in Athlone. Upon the award of a Belgian government doctoral bursary he left for Belgium in 1971 to do his licentiate in Germanic Philology at the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels. Upon his return to South Africa he taught at Grassy Park High School in Cape Town before being appointed in July 1972 as a lecturer in Afrikaans and Nederlands at his alma mater. Four years later he became senior lecturer, then in 1980, professor and head of department, and eventually in 1982 dean of the Faculty of Arts.

In 1979 Jakes Gerwel received his doctorate in Literature and Philosophy (magna cum laude) from the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels. His thesis (published in 1983) was on "Literatuur en apartheid. Konsepsies van ‘gekleurdes’ in die Afrikaanse roman tot 1948" [“Literature and Apartheid. Conceptions of ‘coloured people’ in the Afrikaans novel up to 1948]. Gerwel’s study had important impact on Afrikaans literary criticism. Throughout his academic career, he continued to publish a variety of books, monographs, articles, essays and papers on literature, education and socio-political matters. Perhaps most influential was the organisation in 1985 of a conference at University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Swart Afrikaanse skrywers”, reflecting the strong influence of Steve Biko’s black consciousness ideas on the coloured intellectual community at the time.

From 1987 to April 1994 Jakes Gerwel was vice-chancellor of UWC. During this time of opposition to the government, where states of emergency were declared repeatedly, campus life was characterised by police raids, banning orders and closures. With intelligence and determination Prof Gerwel steered UWC through this turmoil, whilst building the university's academic reputation by attracting top academics.

From May 1994 to June 1999 Professor Gerwel served as Director-General in the Office of President Mandela. He also served as secretary of the Cabinet, chancellor of the Chancellery of Orders, and as a member of various government committees.

Prof Gerwel’s understanding of higher education is a vital resource in the transformation of the sector. He has extensive experience in many roles: as chairman of the Human Sciences Research Council, member of the Council for Higher Education, vice-chancellor at UWC, chairman of the Committee of University Principals, and currently chancellor of Rhodes University.

At present he is director of various institutions in the private sector, namely Naspers, Educor, Old Mutual, Goldfields Limited, and non-executive Chairman of Brimstone Investment Corporation and Africon Engineering International.  He chairs the Boards of Trustees of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

In recognition of his substantial contribution in the field of literature, and for his outstanding achievements and exceptional service to the South African community it is an honour for NMMU to confer the degree of Doctor Litteratum (Honoris Causa) on GERT JOHANNES GERWEL