Professor Jakes Gerwel was born in 1946, and grew up on a sheep farm in the district of Somerset East in the Eastern Cape.
Prof Gerwel holds a BA and BA Honours in Afrikaans-Nederlands from the University of the Western Cape, a Licentiate in Germanic Philology from the Free University of Brussels as well as a Doctorate in Literature and Philosophy from Brussels.
He is the chancellor of Rhodes University, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and vice-chairman of the Peace Parks Foundation.
Prof Gerwel was vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Western Cape from 1987 to 1994 during which he instituted far-reaching curriculum changes and a host of research and outreach projects. He served as Director-General in the office of then President Nelson Mandela and Cabinet Secretary of the Government of National Unity from 1994 to June 1999..
He is Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of the Western Cape and Honorary Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pretoria. He is a non-executive director of Naspers and non-executive chairman of Brimstone, Life Healthcare, Media24 and Aurecon. Dr Gerwel was awarded the Order of Southern Cross (Gold) by then President Nelson Mandela. He holds several honorary doctorates from South African and international universities. His previous publications include the groundbreaking study Literatuur en apartheid (Literature and apartheid).