In the last few weeks I have often thought about saying goodbye to Jamie.
But as I thought about saying goodbye, I also remembered the Jamie over a long friendship spanning many places, towns, meetings, demonstrations, exciting debates, long conversations and exotic dinners and clandestine reading groups.
I have to remember the klaverjas, the numerous board games that brought the competitive Jamie to the fore.
It is difficult to stand here today and imagine what to say that best describes Jamie; for his life has been far too short given what he offered humanity. I say humanity because that was his main concern: he was a humanist; but much more.
For many who lived and worked and shared his life, he was a remarkable man. He made his mark in a gentle, unassuming yet leaving a deep imprint on all who came into contact with him.
Gentle in ways, kind, caring and a man of extreme integrity and humbleness. Lauren, (Jamie’s 9 year-old daughter) over the next days you will hear many things about your dad, his commitment and dedication but if there is one lesson that you should take for yourself- is his gentle determination.
In fact a quote from Martin Luther King Jr, best speaks to the type of person your dad was- “ An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”.
This philosophy guided his approach over the years. These last weeks in hospital it was the same – Jamie wanted to hear about others – the problems of society, the poor rather than to tell us about the pain he was suffering.
Jamie aged 16, arrived in Cape Town from Great Brak River via Mossel Bay to complete his high school at Livingstone. The rural boy in a short space of time, gained the respect of his teachers and class mates and in matric he was made head boy. That year he was also amongst the top 20 students that wrote matric exams in South Africa. None of these achievements altered the humility of the quiet but determined young Jamie. It is in high school that he also started to show an interest in politics. His intellect and sense of social justice endeared him to people like Richard Dudley and others in the leadership of the various political movements active at Livingstone.
At medical school, he quickly became active in student politics and by the time he was in his fourth year, I am sure there was not a township (nor a shebeen) in the Western Cape that he had not visited. This must have been the start of Jamie’s interest in community – public health.
His activism also brought him into a life-long collaboration with his two fellow conspirators – Brian and Hamied. Together, they produced Free Azania, Solidarity, Workers Voice and a host of other pamphlets, articles and political statements – many of which were banned. Jamie participated in illegal and underground political activities fearlessly, never considering his own safety but always concerned about his fellow comrades. Producing these journals was just one part of his life in the Cape Action League and then in WOSA.
We spent many years together building local organisations civics in Parkwood Estate, youth and student organisations and trade unions especially the early Health Workers Union. At the root of this was Jamie’s belief that emancipation would be result of the actions of ordinary people in their everyday struggles: This defined his on-going commitment to a society free from Apartheid, all forms of oppression and exploitation. Jamie cringed at the deep schisms between the rich and the poor. So you will not be surprised that Jamie never saw 1994 and the achievement of democracy as the end of the struggle. His lifelong mission was to overcome inequality and injustice. Jamie had special politics – he was able to work with people from all walks of life and build links and bridges across the political divides. He respected the views and contributions of others. In this way he was special.
The only time he refused to listen to views of others was when it came to cricket and rugby.
It is these views that he carried forward through his activism and was present in his work as a public health administrator, as a part of the Amandla Collective, as a parent to Lauren, partner to Bronwyn, a brother, co-worker, a comrade and friend to many of us.
So when one pays tribute to the life of Jamie we have to pay tribute to everyone who shaped and influenced his life. Here I have to make a few special comments- first it is to Daisy and James – thank you for Jamie, for his fine ways, gentle spirit, to Bronwyn, thanks for your commitment, love and patience- this is from all of us, but especially Daisy, lastly to Lauren – your dad loved you dearly.