Gabriel Hertis: The sun has set on an amazing life
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By Dr Abdul-Karim G. Elgoni
Last week, the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) lost one of its hard-working leaders, Gabriel Hertis, an activist for the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa.
Gabriel, as we used to call him, succumbed to a short illness on Friday, July 2. His untimely death robbed our community of one of its pillars, whose leadership and dedication to working with and for migrants was the driving force behind the ADF.
During his time with the organisation, Gabriel worked with the founding leaders of the ADF in building a strong organisation that has become known continentally and internationally as a strong defender of the rights of migrants, human rights and a service provider to thousands in need.
A staunch Christian who always spoke about the need to keep praying for God’s favour and mercy, Gabriel was one of the ADF leaders whose fear of God, love for humanity, dedication to ADF and service to migrants was unquestioned, and one would be forgiven for believing that he took the fatal breath that claimed his life while providing a service to the less fortunate.
Among the most recent of his many contributions since the formation of the organisation in 2008, Gabriel was instrumental in the ADF’s collection and distribution of millions of rand worth of food hampers during the Covid-19-induced lockdown, saving tens of thousands of migrants and poor South Africans from starvation, following serious loss of jobs and other forms of livelihood.
Among the many communities of both migrants and locals that Gabriel and other ADF leaders assisted were people from Piet du Plessis, Waterworks, Kempton Park, Central Johannesburg, Kensington, Betrams, Bez Valley, Ganyesa and Mpumalanga, after they had cried out for help when government arms seemed too short to reach them.
Not only did he help the ADF-Afrika Awake project with gathering food parcels, Gabriel is also one of the ADF leaders who travelled around feeding these needy communities, some as far as Ganyane, near the South Africa-Botswana border, where they distributed 300 food parcels to residents of this remote place, cut-off from the rest of the South African population.
The team also distributed toys to children and wheelchairs to the disabled. One of the beneficiaries was a woman celebrating her 111th birthday. The ADF team bought a cake for the centenarian and sponsored a small party for her to celebrate her gift of long life.
In total, the ADF distributed more than 30 000 food parcels, each enough to feed a family of five people, since the lockdown began. Each parcel was worth R200, meaning more than R6 million worth of parcels were distributed during Gabriel’s lifetime.
Originally from Rwanda, the fallen ADF hero was also heavily involved in organising and running workshops for migrants and locals, community dialogues, fighting xenophobia, responding to distress calls from migrants, liaising and working with government on social cohesion programmes, planning and carrying out ADF work and mobilising people and resources for the organisation.
Even in times of crisis, he would travel the length and breadth of South Africa, providing the link between migrants and government under the auspices of the ADF. Many will remember him for putting his life on the line when he was one of the ADF leaders assaulted by fellow migrants who were protesting in Cape Town, seeking to be transferred out of South Africa about two years ago. Such was his dedication and commitment to working for a better and more united Africa.
His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone who interacted or worked with him, as well as those he reached but never met. #RIPGabrielHertis.
Elgoni is African Diaspora Forum chairperson