Jakes Gerwel was a vanguard of our democracy - Patricia de Lille

Cape Town mayor says renaming of Vanguard Drive a fitting way to honour the late UWC rector and DG of the Mandela Presidency

Jakes Gerwel was a vanguard of our democracy 

Note to editors: this is an extract from a speech delivered by the Executive Mayor, Patricia de Lille, at the renaming ceremony of Jakes Gerwel Drive today, 18 January 2015.

Freeman of the City of Cape Town, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Freeman of the City of Cape Town, Professor Richard van der Ross

Members of the Mayoral Committee


Mrs Phoebe Gerwel and family members

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning, goeie môre, molweni, as-salaam alaikum, shalom.

In April last year, the City of Cape Town adopted the Naming Committee's recommendation to rename Vanguard Drive to Jakes Gerwel Drive.

When the Mandela Rhodes Foundation approached us with the renaming proposal, we were honoured to know that the City would assist in enshrining his legacy.

Over four decades of Professor Gerwel's life were spent here on the Cape Flats, which makes him a true son of the Cape Town soil.

He was a signatory of the City of Cape Town's Civic Honours Book - one of the highest civic honours bestowed by the City to individuals who have made a significant contribution in business, academia and leadership.

It is therefore only fitting that his achievements and contribution to our city and country be memorialised in this manner.

Vanguard Drive was chosen for its geographical significance in the life of Professor Gerwel, as he spent a large part of his life living and working in the suburbs found along this road.

This choice is even more appropriate if one considers the definition of ‘vanguard', which is ‘to be in position at the forefront of new developments or ideas'.

Professor Gerwel was one of the stalwarts in the vanguard of our new democracy - a courageous leader who stood firm for what he believed was right.

We saw this when he became rector of the University of the Western Cape during the late 1980s and decided to open up student enrolment to the entire population rather than just the Coloured population.

This was a bold act deeply rooted in his belief in the spirit of inclusivity.

Today, the City of Cape Town strives to manifest that spirit in all aspects of governance.

We are committed to building an inclusive city.

Our vision is of a city in which all residents feel a deep sense of belonging.

In order for us to achieve this, we understand that we need to work in partnership and consultation with residents because our decisions affect them.

As an inclusive city, we know that government needs to respond to the needs of its citizens.

We also understand that the beauty and strength of this city lies in the diversity of its people.

In order to build an inclusive city, we must therefore acknowledge and celebrate the many people who contributed to the development of our country.

Renaming is a critical part of redress, as it allows us to remember our past while we determine what kind future we would like to build.

Professor Gerwel's life, which was characterised by an unwavering commitment to a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society, exemplifies the kind of future we want for Cape Town.

On what would have been his 69th birthday, we commemorate the invaluable role he played in the formative years of our democracy.

As the first ever Director-General of the Presidency in our democratically elected government, he was a pioneer of Madiba's rainbow nation vision for our nation.

Professor Gerwel believed that reconciliation was a process, not an event.

During an interview he was once quoted as saying:

‘We often forget the miracle of our transition, the fact that a country so deeply divided managed to negotiate a settlement and establish a democratic order, and establish a government of national unity and managed to establish national unity amongst the diverse cultural, ethnic but particularly political groupings which we have in the country'.

With his characteristic humility, I think he often forgot the major role that he played in the creation of that miracle transition.

Sometimes it feels as if we too have forgotten the role that each of us played in that miracle.

But we must never forget that the process of reconciliation continues today.

It is a process for which we are all jointly responsible.

Professor Gerwel demonstrated the power we have as individuals to think critically of our society and also to be an agent of the change we wish to see.

As we travel along Jakes Gerwel Drive, may we reflect on the road he has paved for us, and consider whether we are headed towards the same vision.

Let us take the time to reflect on whether we have wandered away from that vision, and let us have the courage to find our way back again.

Let us remember Professor Gerwel, not only today and whenever we travel on this road, but also as we continue the work that he started, and make progress possible together.

Statement issued by Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, City of Cape Town, January 18 2015

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