Beverley Jansen remembered

Beverley Jansen

Beverley Jansen was an author, poet, teacher and social-justice activist. The country knew Ms Jansen as a former land claims commissioner in the Western Cape for over a decade and as the last mayor of Fish Hoek, who served in that position from 1995-1996.

Ocean View will remember her as a visionary, a pathfinder, a pillar of their own community.

And her family mourns a glamorous mother and wife, a grandmother, who ended every conversation – long before she became ill – with a meangingful: “I love you”.

Her daughter, Helga Jansen, speaking for the family, described her mother as a true renaissance woman, ahead of her time in so many ways; a teacher who could so easily have been an actress.

President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed sadness at the death of Ms Jansen on Friday October 9 at Medclinic Constantiaberg.

He said that as a land claims commissioner appointed by then President Thabo Mbeki, Ms Jansen had played a big part in the success of land claims by communities from District Six, Simon’s Town, the Richtersveld and other places.

“She will be remembered for her commitment to education and the fight against apartheid in Ocean View near Cape Point, where she was a housing and social-justice activist and where she established the award-winning Ocean View Development Trust,” he said.

“Beverley Jansen was a torch-bearer in our struggle against apartheid who, after 1994, continued to serve communities with distinction and with a passion for seeing our constitution made real in the lives of ordinary South Africans.

“We will miss her as a stalwart of social justice and as a creative voice who sketched the hardships, the colourful and complex lived experiences, and the unsung triumphs, of the people among whom she lived and campaigned,” said President Ramaphosa.

Cape Town mayor Dan Plato expressed his own condolences, on behalf of the City of Cape Town.

Ms Jansen was an author who was a finalist in the BBC Heinemann Writers Series in 1987.

Helga said her father, Donald, remained in love with her mother even after her death and that their life story was a love story of note.

Mr Jansen saw a beautiful girl on a train one day – didn’t know her or her name – but he told the friend he was with that he was going to marry her. Two years later, they met at a wedding, three years later, they were married.

Helga said her father had taken one look at her mother and had just known she would revolutionise his life.

Because of her, Mr Jansen studied further and by the time his daughters were ready to attend school, Mr Jansen was also qualified and working as a teacher, while Ms Jansen was teaching in Ocean View.

Helga remembers a life of colourful characters: Saturday afternoons, her father frying fish, her mother reading the Mail and Guardian, laughing and pontificating with Peter Clarke about the current news and politics.

The Jansen children grew up amid robust conversations with artists and ANC activists in the mid-1980s.

Ms Jansen attended a writer’s conference in Zimbabwe which drove her to tell South African stories, through poetry.

“Her gifts are living in us, her children: my sisters, Inga and Liezl, my brother Sven, we are all creatives in different ways. Inga works as a script continuity adviser in the international film industry, I write, Liezl was an actor for 10 years – her ability to make people laugh, to tell stories and absorb the pathos of life – that is all my mother’s ability to observe and to interpret. That was one of the biggest gifts my mother gave to Liezl,” she said.

She described her childhood home as a melting pot for the luminaries of the creative and artistic world. Their lounge was a safe space for James Matthews, Albert and Gladys Thomas and Lionel Davis.

Dr Neville Alexander visited their home first, after he was released from Robben Island.

“We were incredibly lucky to have these people in our midst growing up. We grew up on their stories, oh, and the music,” she said.

Mr Jansen is related to jazz musician Robbie Jansen so the family was raised on jazz and classical music, but also on the notes of other greats like Johnny Clegg, Juluka and Savuka.

Despite the influx of big names, they had stability: school was school, work was work, the family took trips to visit extended family often.

“My mother was all about family: family by blood, and family through love.”

Helga said her mother’s appointment to land restitution was a fitting cap to a lifetime of work.

“This province had some of the biggest cases which saw closure. She always advised families to retain land. She was also passionate about making sure that the female descendents in families were as entitled to the restitution as the male recipients,” Helga said.

She described her mom as having lived and died on her own terms, beholden to nobody and nothing, leaving behind a husband that would love her for the rest of his life.

“She is our ancestor now, everything I am is because of her and my father; every ambition I have, every instinctive bent for social justice that I have is because of her and my father.”

Ms Jansen is survived by her husband of 50 years, Donald Jansen, her daughters, Helga, Liezl and Inge, and her son, Sven, and her five granddaughters, Odessa, Mika, Miyanda, Jasmine and Maliyah.

There will be a life celebration for Ms Jansen at the Fish Hoek Civic Centre hall on Saturday October 17, starting with sanitising at 9:30am. The celebration will begin at 10.30am. Strict Covid-19 protocols will apply.