2011 Memorial Lecture and Neil Aggett Award

 

Kingswood Grade 12 pupil Luyolo Sijake was awarded the inaugural Neil Aggett Memorial Award this morning in the presence of several members of Neil Aggett’s family.  Coinciding with the fifth annual Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture which was delivered by Cape Town academic and former associate of Neil Aggett, Jan Theron, the award was presented to Sijake by Neil Aggett’s sister, Mrs Jill Burger who came from the UK with her husband Paul especially for the event.  Also in attendance were Neil Aggett’s late brother’s wife, Mavis Aggett and her son David, and a cousin of Aggett’s and well-known author Beverley Naidoo and her husband Nandha.  Naidoo is writing a biography of Neil Aggett which will be released next year.

Luyolo Sijake received the award because of his selfless dedication to the betterment of others and his courageous pursuit of excellence in all he undertakes.  Kingswood College Head Jon Trafford told of Sijake’s many hours of community service, tutoring the children of cleaning and security staff at Kingswood, and his thoughtful submissions to school management about leadership structures and the use of academic resources at the school to help children from the local community.  Trafford said, “The benefits of improvements that Luyolo has helped to implement will be felt by many young people at Kingswood in time to come”. 

The award, an endowment by the Old Kingswoodian Matric Class of 1970, of which Neil Aggett was a part, is intended to focus on recognizing a young leader whose wider academic, sporting and social endeavours place ‘service above self’ at the core of their own lifestyles.  Nominees for the award must display the characteristics of community engagement, human courage and social justice.    The award carries no prize or conventional trophy save for a certificate, in keeping with the spirit of giving back to society for no material reward.  Instead, the award is symbolized by a bronze sculpture by renowned East Cape sculptor, Maureen Quinn.  The sculpture was officially handed over to Kingswood College on behalf of the Matric Class of 1970 this morning, before being presented to Sijake along with a framed certificate.

Jan Theron, in his lecture told of his early association with Neil Aggett and his journey to being involved with the Food and Canning Workers Union in the 1970s.   Theron was, at the time, General Secretary of the Union which merged with other unions to become the Food and Allied workers Union in 1986.  Aggett, he said, made a significant contribution to establishing the Union nationally and was part of the process of sounding out other unions that resulted ultimately in the establishment of the trade union federation COSATU.   Aggett possessed a ‘quiet logic and sincerity’ which impressed even the employers he dealt with.  However, Theron said that Neil Aggett would have wanted to be remembered not by employers or important people, but by ordinary workers who reaffirmed in him his belief in humanity. For them, and for South Africa as a whole, the fact that Aggett died in detention was hugely symbolic. The fact that he was white, challenging white authority, confirmed that the struggle was not racial in character.

Theron challenged the audience of Kingswood pupils and invited guests with the question : What can you do to carry on Neil’s Aggett’s legacy? He suggested that social justice is about collective solutions that address the issues of inequality and deprivation in society, and that Neil Aggett would have argued that the most significant way to advance social justice would be by empowering ordinary people, by building organizations and institutions that are as inclusive and diverse, and collectively mobilizing resources to promote social justice that are not available to individuals.

“There are no blue-prints for advancing social justice, and it is no longer possible, as it was when Neil chose to work for a trade union, to suppose that one form of organization, be it a trade union or a political organization, holds the solution. The focus needs to be on the local rather than the national, or the global, that it is possible for you to get out of your comfort zone of relative privilege and engage with people across the boundaries of race and class.” he said.

Below - Luyolo Sijake receives the first Neil Aggett Award from Neil Aggett's sister, Mrs Jill Burger and Kingswood College Head, Mr Jon Trafford.

 

Below - Chairman of the Kingswood College Council Mrs Di Hornby, guest speaker for the 2011 Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture, Mr Jan Theron, Mrs Jill Burger, Luyolo Sijake and Mr Jon Trafford

Below, Luyolo Sijake chats to Neil Aggett's sister, Mrs Jill Burger

Below - members of Neil Aggett's family who were able to attend the 2011 Memorial Lecture and first presentation of the Neil Aggett Award to a Kingswood pupil : Mr Nandha Naidoo, Mr Paul Burger and his wife Mrs Jill Burger, Mrs Mavis Aggett, and her son Paul, and Mrs Beverley Naidoo - a cousin of Neil Aggett's and his official biographer.


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