Age and experience never really prepare one for the loss of dear friends and colleagues. For South Africa, however, the recent passing of Dr Dennis George is a tragedy, as we have lost yet one more soul of the soil who fought the good fight and helped us realise freedom and democracy.
For me personally, it has been quite a blow, coming so soon after saying goodbye to my lifelong friend, Dr Wallace Mgoqi who also recently left us.
Dennis’s passing is yet another timely reminder of the fragility of man and the need to make the time we have been allocated on this Earth, matter, and there can be no question that he made his allotted period here count.
Dennis George and I walked a long path together over the years. I enjoyed our robust debates, always, for Dennis was a born intellectual, curious, and kind to a fault.
His sense of right carried him from his activist days through the turbulence of the trade union movement, to business and leadership.
He was a quiet man, a thinker, and a wise man whose power to effect change lay in his incisive summing of any given situation and then delivering and implementing the solutions – often rolling up his sleeves to get stuck in himself.
His PhD, which he achieved later in life, around increasing social equity and encouraging participation across all levels of business and government, encapsulated the essence of a man living to make the world a just and included place.
The fact that he decided to go back to school to obtain his Doctorate, at a stage where most of us are slowing down, speaks volumes about his lifetime of commitment to the country as much as it does about furthering his own knowledge and how we are never too old to learn something new.
For the Dennis I met, bonded with, and knew, life was about South Africa’s progression and creating opportunities for those who had not had access to those before, but also for the country as a whole.
His starting position from every new approach, project, consideration, revolved around how he could support the country and what he could do for South Africa.
His work as General Secretary of the trade union, Fedusa, gave it credibility. His astuteness to realise that trade unions needed to evolve to become less reliant on the dues of their members to effect real change, led him to developing the Union’s investment portfolio.
The first of its kind in South Africa.
Being pragmatic and able to adeptly traverse the often complicated and challenging political landscape on home soil, Dennis was a keenly sought champion to promote South Africa, often accompanying international trade delegations at the invitation of the Government, whether headed by President Jacob Zuma or President Ramaphosa.
He was not, however, a leopard constantly changing his spots, always staying true to his course and never being afraid to speak truth to power – which is how we met.
In fact, although a generally quiet person, he could also be outspoken and had no hesitation in calling those in positions of power to account, critical as needs be, and was vehemently opposed to corruption of any kind, something we had and still have in common.
This also cost him, as the fallout around his decision to remain a director at AYO Technologies when all around him was chaos and a cacophony of irrational sound, a case in point, that saw Dennis’s own sterling reputation challenged.
But his faith in AYO, which I am glad he was here to see how it has now turned the corner, and his belief in South Africa owning its own technology, would also lead to one of his greatest legacies.
That of creating the country’s very first black empowered and developed solar manufacturing plants, not relying on foreign investment, which is rising like the Phoenix from the ashes of Saldanha Bay, an area where income opportunities have been hard hit.
The word “stalwart” is often thrown around in the context of our democratic struggle. Its meaning has become somewhat muted overtime.
However, at the crux of its definition are the words “loyalty, reliable and hard-working.”
Dennis was therefore, a true “stalwart”, being forever loyal not only to the democratic cause, but to his friends and family, a man who could be relied on to find the right path forward, and hard-working is beyond dispute and is what ultimately claimed his life.
Dr Dennis George was many things and achieved much greatness in his life whether as an activist, trade unionist, a pioneer in business, a community leader, academic, humanitarian and so much more.
For all that, he was still a humble man – husband, father, son, and of course, friend.
His character and moral code live on in the genes and the memories he leaves behind. Like so many before him, gone but never forgotten.
My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Natalie, Liezel, Dennis Junior and Caleb and family.
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