Campaigner’s death leaves gaping hole

Lesley Shackleton on a recent cycling trip in the Little Karoo, her energy undimmed even though she was ill with cancer. She passed away last week.

Lesley Shackleton, the driving force behind the Gatvol campaign, died last week on Wednesday, leaving a gaping hole in the community which appreciated her public service, intelligence and her energy.

She served on the Far South Peninsula Community Forum and had chaired the Simon’s Town Civic Association after an active life in academia, research and consulting.

Dr Shackleton’s initial field of study was marine geology at UCT, where she became the research assistant to Professor Eric Simpson, said her husband, Geoff Brundrit.

“After Professor Simpson’s death, she joined the CSIR and was influential in coordinating the highly successful Benguela Ecology Programme,” said Dr Brundrit.

“It was at this time that we met and married. Promotion within the CSIR meant a move to Pretoria, which Lesley was not prepared to do, so she started her own consultancy, Research Facilitation Services. This led to contact with various research organisations and universities around the country, all the time with Lesley doing the hard coordination work.

“At this time, and particularly after the transition to democracy in the early 1990s, Lesley became interested in the empowerment of professional academic women, helping to found South African Women in Science and Engineering and promoting HERS-SA and their events giving voice and experience to women academics from South Africa and Africa. This interest led to her PhD in Gender Studies from UCT.

“Then she was approached by UCT to become the founding director of their International Academic Programmes Office, organising highly successful initiatives such as the University Science and Engineering Partnerships in Africa and the International Study Abroad Programme bringing large numbers of students to UCT for a semester at a time.

“Eventually we retired to Simon’s Town and, never one to put her feet up while there was a job to be done, she became involved with civic affairs,” said Dr Brundrit.

It was this involvement in civic affairs that endeared her to the community.

“When someone dies who was a landmark figure in my life, I always feel that I should have said thank you for everything beforehand,” said former councillor and mayor of Simon’s Town and fellow Murdoch Valley resident, Nicky Holderness. “So this is really what I would have said to Lesley: Thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness for others, for your joie de vivre, for stimulating my lazy mind, for reminding me how beautiful things can be if you are always interested in life.

“Lesley had a clarity of intellect combined with a generous spirit. She encouraged and enthused people and while chairman of the Simon’s Town Civic Association made it a vigorous and active organisation in the far south.

“She was forceful in her dislike of the bureaucratic ineptitude which degraded rather than developed our communities and drove the Gatvol campaign against such a mindset. Her respect for our natural heritage and the need for its preservation for future generations was a guiding principle.

“Her energy was such that, even while ill, she cycled here and in Europe, walked the mountains and the coast, painted, played bridge and croquet, travelled extensively and was involved with so many aspects of community life. More than anything she had a joyous nature, she made people feel happy – a rare talent. Lesley was a precious resource to us.”

“I knew her as a brilliant mind who was absolutely dedicated to serving the community,” said Rear Admiral Arné Söderland. “She never tired in her efforts in improving conditions in the far south and had a very strong personality which meant she could deal with any level in our society.

“She never stood back and even when severely ill took issue with civic matters. She earned the respect of all who knew her as she never sought to gain personal recognition or any benefit from her tireless efforts.

“She proved that women were indeed equal to men or, in my opinion, proved the adage that when there is a man’s job to be done, best give it to a woman,” he said.

Fellow community activist Bruce-Campbell Smith said that Dr Shackleton had always been a bastion of strength for him, someone he could count on for advice, someone insightful, objective and strong.

“I could always count on Lesley for sage advice when I was troubled,” he said. “I salute her for her invaluable contribution to civil society and her pragmatic outlook on life. I shall miss her immensely and hope to do justice to the ideals that she fought so hard for.”

Patrick Dowling, chairperson of Kommetjie Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, who worked with Lesley on the Far South Peninsula Community Forum, commented: “Whether diplomatically cool calm and collected or feistily on the warpath for good, accountable governance, Lesley Shackleton commanded attention and respect. She gave generously of her time, writing and speaking talents and money in raising the rational voice of civil society and getting it heard and read. She was an activist to the end and dear to us all.”

Dr Brundrit said that there would be no memorial service.

“That wasn’t Lesley’s style. She didn’t like to be the centre of attention,” he said.