Remembering Gregory van Rensburg
Gregory Van Rensburg passed away on August 22nd, 2015, after a short illness. His death is a huge loss to SDI as a whole, for the South African SDI Alliance, for South Africa’s urban poverty sector and of course for his special family.
Many people in the alliance genuinely loved Gregory. We loved him for the uncomplicated, open and straightforward way he went about his work. Born into a low-income coloured working class family in Kimberley, South Africa at the height of apartheid he had first hand experience of poverty and exclusion. He was a living embodiment of the assertion made by Dr. Ahmed Akhtar Khan, founder of the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, that the best community workers and activists are always those who come from the communities themselves.
Gregory Van Rensburg was an activist in the truest sense of the word, meaning that he was not a “campaign-ist” or a public watchdog or a whistle blower; nor was he a researcher or a social theorist, or atrainer of others although he could have been all of those things. Indeed Gregory actually did very well in his early professional life as a teacher at a reform school and then as a researcher for several Government Departments during the Mandela Presidency.
These were Gregory’s jobs until he chanced upon the Federation of the Urban Poor, but they were not his calling and more importantly they were not a continuum of his own everyday life.
Gregory Van Rensburg was an activist in the truest sense of the word. The root of word activist is the Latin actus, which translates into “a doing, a driving force, or an impulse.” Ask any Federation member who worked with Greg and they will say that these words describe him perfectly. Although he could be the soul of the party and loved to talk, he was very much a doer. Not for him the office desk or the meeting room. His stomping grounds were the community, the Government offices, the project sites. This is what made him into a driving force in uTshani Fund, the South African Alliance’s finance facility that he managed for the last decade – the most difficult time in a generation for concerted grassroots mobilization. He understood that this was a difficult time and he understood almost by impulse that what the Federation needed was someone to be with them in the trenches, working to help them achieve their objectives and secure what ever land, services and housing solutions that they could.
Gregory belonged to an age of activism that is sadly on the wane. We work and struggle for transformation at a time when professional staff (“activists”) are tied to their offices and their desks and where measurement or ideology have almost obliterated judgement, inter-personal relationships, trust and flexibility. Gregory embodied and practiced all these old fashioned values. He spent most of his time outside the office, with the communities, dealing with obstacle courses of complexity, unpredictability, volatility and risk. He never shirked from these challenges, although the stresses and the anxieties were relentless. And he was always affable, approachable, friendly – whether he was engaging slum dwellers, officials, politicians, developers, donors or financiers.
No one is irreplaceable but first with Magebhula last year, and now with Gregory, SDI has lost someone whose shoes are not going to be easy to fill. And even when we do find or build the capacity of someone to fill his role we can only hope that he or she is an equally splendid human being.
Tributes to Greg van Rensburg
Greg with Patrick Hunsley who passed away last year.
From uTshani Fund
To Sandra and family, we would like to send our sincere condolences for the loss of Gregory your dear husband, father and friend.
Greg will be dearly missed by the Utshani Fund staff in the Cape Town office. We had a very close working relationship with him although he was based in the Johannesburg office. He was an inspiration to all of us and was always admired for his calm and gentle manner in which he dealt with everything. He always treated us with the utmost respect no matter what the circumstances were. He quickly became not just our boss and colleague but also a true friend that we could converse with on many levels both personal and work related.
We will always remember his passion for the work we did and the dedication he showed to the Alliance as a whole. We feel that we have lost a mentor, a leader and a good friend.
Our hearts are very heavy with the loss of such a great person and his passing will no doubt have a huge impact on Utshani and the Federation, but we will continue to work towards our goals always remembering the leadership and compassion he showed for our course.
Hamba Kahle Tata Gregory Van Rensburg.
Rest in Peace,
Pam, Nuraan, Vanessa and Kim
Utshani Fund Staff, Cape Town
From the SDI Secretariat
It is in deep shock that I write to you all to inform you that our dear friend, colleague, comrade, Gregory Van Rensburg, passed away this morning after a short illness. The SDI family has lost another stalwart whose hard work, open heart and deep commitment is going to be sorely missed. Our feelings go out to his wonderful family in this time of sadness. For many of us in South Africa Gregory was a very close friend. We will miss him dearly.
Joel Bolnick, SDI Secretariat
It is with great sadness that I write this farewell to a real stalwart of the SA SDI Alliance. I will always remember Greg for his awesome smile and always calm approach to the most challenging of circumstances. The shock to the system is unbelievable and in this time of sorrow we can all draw strength from the memory of a man who loved his work, went beyond the extra mile to serve communities and through it all managed to maintain a positive attitude.
Greg, you will be dearly missed but we know the legacy of your hard work will live on in the lives of so many. In this time we send prayers to Sandra and family – we have been shaken, but we will persevere and the memory of Greg will live on.
Charlton Ziervogel, SA SDI Alliance
Greg was a humble person, you would have never find him angry no matter what the situation was. For me he was the ideal professional person to work with the poor. He always handled things with care. When it comes to his relationship with Sandra, it was more than a couple, they were like twins, so rest in peace Greg you have done a lot for our struggle. We hope and pray that you will continue to do more for the SA SDI alliance on the other side.
Rest in peace,
Mamkhabela, SA SDI Alliance