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7 July 2013
Dr. Jean Swanson-Jacobs Tribute

Academic and struggle stalwart passes on

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the country at large is mourning the passing of activist Dr Jean Swanson-Jacobs, an alumna of the University and former Deputy Minister of Social Development. Also known as Jean Benjamin, Swanson-Jacobs, 57, passed away on 7 July 2013 after suffering from a stroke in hospital.

Swanson-Jacobs, an accomplished social scientist, had a long, rich history with UWC, an institution she attended after matriculating from Immaculata High School.  Her political activism landed her in trouble when she was expelled from the University in 1973 and was forced into exile before relocating to London to avoid being subpoenaed as a state witness in the trial of Saths Cooper and 12 others for “terrorist activities”. While in London, she obtained a Bachelor of Science from the University of North East London in 1980.

She bravely returned to South Africa to re-engage in political activity in the 1980s when she participated in the United Women's Congress, the Federation of South African Women and the Action Committee at UWC. Resuming her studies, she excelled, obtaining a Master of Science degree from the University of Cape Town in 1984, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Psychology from UWC in 1996. She was the first black woman to complete her PhD at UWC in her field.

Swanson-Jacobs worked as a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at UWC. She was also selected as the Head of Department of Psychology in 1986 and then served for a decade as a member of the UWC Transformation Forum. She was the first Chairperson of the UWC’s Association of Democratic Educators in the 1980s and a member of the UWC Appointments Committee, and was later elected as a member of the UWC Senate.

When the African National Congress (ANC) was unbanned, Swanson-Jacobs served on the executive of the party’s Bellville branch, the ANC Northern Suburbs regional executive and the executive of the ANC Western Cape Province from 1990 to 1995.

Jean became a Member of Parliament in the National Assembly in 1997, where she served until 2004. She also served in the Education, Arts and Culture and Quality of Life and Status of Women Portfolio Committees, from 1997 to 1999; was a member of Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee from 1999 to 2002; a member of Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises from 2002 to 2004. She also served in both the Joint Rules Committee and Language Policy Committee.

She was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Social Development from April 2004 to May 2009. During her term, Swanson-Jacobs was instrumental in the fight against alcohol and drug  abuse, and was actively involved in the formation of community structures, such as the launch of the Ke Moja – I’m Fine Without Drugs campaign.

In his message of condolence, President Jacob Zuma said Swanson-Jacobs “was very driven”. “She took the task of fighting against drug and substance abuse to heart.”

Jean was a jazz lover, singer and guitarist. She often sang at struggle meetings and supported various jazz causes.

The UWC community would like to extend its sincere condolences to the Swanson-Jacobs family during this time of bereavement.

Dr Michelle Andipatin, head of UWC’s Department of Psychology, remembers Swanson-Jacobs as, “someone who believed that academia and activism were not dichotomies but were interlinked and dialectically related.  This she demonstrated through documenting and publishing her ideas and in this way sought to challenge existing thinking while simultaneously advocating for change”, said Andipatin.

On a more personal level, Andipatin recalls that, Swanson-Jacobs was well liked by all her colleagues and students, and was fondly called ‘Billie Jean’ by some of the staff.

“As a department we deeply mourn her passing, but joyfully remember the magnificent contribution she made.  We wish her family, relatives and friends our sincere condolences and pray for God’s peace to reign within each one of you.”

She was a devoted mother and is survived by her children Jeanine, Lindsey and Govan. 

Memorial Services:

Memorial services for Swanson-Jacobs will take place on Wednesday, 17 July 2013 at St Johns Church, Eendrag Street, Bellville South at 19h00; and on Thursday, 18 July 2013 at the Full Gospel Church, corner of Eendrag and Mackenzie Street, Bellville South at 19h00.

Funeral Service:

The funeral Service will be held on Saturday, 20 July 2013, St John’s Anglican Church, Eendrag Street, Bellville South. The viewing will be from 07h30 – 08h30 at the family home (46 De Wet Street, Bellville South) and from 09h00 – 09h30 at the church. The church service starts promptly at 10h00 – 13h00.

Cremation Service:

The cremation service will commence at 14:00 at Durbanville Memorial Park (DMP), Klipheuwel Road, Durbanville.