Dear Sandy and Mark, your spouses and Jen’s grandchildren, dear Kered, dear Comrades and Friends, I am deeply honoured to be allowed to add a few words to this celebration of the life of Jennifer Davis.
I am happy to see that my dear friend Prexy Nesbitt is playing a leading role in today’s celebration.
From the moment of our first encounter, Jennifer and I became permanent friends. Each of us come with our own memories of Jen that stretches back through the decades. We all have stories to tell.
Countless people across South Africa, Southern Africa, Africa and the United States, the living and the departed can bear witness to the scale of Jen’s lifelong contribution to liberation. A contribution that began as a high school student activist in a whites only school in Johannesburg until she took her last breath, informed by a Jewish ancestry affected directly by the holocaust. Jennifer knew that racism was evil and that it was deadly.
In many ways, Jen embodied the words solidarity and internationalism. As Jen herself pointed out organisations like the Africa Fund and the American Committee on Africa were not about creating partnerships but rather solidarity which was always a two-way street.
Somehow she managed to be both a leader and of the rank and file at the same time because of her humility.
In the year after surviving a letter bomb attack I did a speaking tour of the United States thanks to Jennifer…. getting to know other remarkable people like Jim Cason, Mike Fleshman, Aleah Bacquie and Bongani Mbatha, then a young intern at the Africa Fund.
Jen was an indomitable fighter for the people of South Africa, equally formidable whether briefing congressional committees, strategizing with black clergy or typing papers on policy. Thanks to Jen I found myself preaching for the late Canon Fred Williams and Wyatt T. Walker at Canaan Baptist…incidentally Wyatt was the only person who ever told me that my sermon was too short.
Jen’s own political history made it logical that she would embrace the call by the forces for liberation to divest in apartheid. It was the same anti-imperialist analysis that lead Jen to involve herself in the grassroots work of empowerment especially of black women done still today by Shared Interest. Jen always knew that apartheid was not just about political oppression but equally economic exploitation.
For me Jen was not just a comrade but a friend with her own quirky ways. Perhaps as a consequence of decades of providing open house to half of Southern Africa, I am sure Kered and Sandy and Mark and perhaps the grandcilhildren too, remember those little yellow sticky notes scattered across the apartment in Riverside Drive. Each little note reminding us of how this and that appliance worked
In 1999, my friend Tiro Motaung and I came to stay at her Riverside Drive apartment. Jen went away for a few days leaving us in the apartment guided by the little yellow notes. Jen was a peoples intellectual, a strategic thinker, with unshakeable principles and great generosity. Also I never saw any signs of ego.
I was also very happy to have visited Kered and her after she moved to Washington and met our veteran journalist Pippa Green there too. Jen continued year in and year out despite those terrible migraines that beset her.
Mandela said of himself: The struggle is my life. This was equally true of Jennifer Davis
How appropriate that our country awarded her with the National Order of a Companion of OR Tambo. Indeed Jen was a heroine and our companion individually and as a people I continue to draw strength and inspiration for today’s struggles from her spirit which lives forever in all of us.
I will be forever grateful to Jen for her love and friendship and comradeship
Jennifer I will carry you in my heart forever.
Father Michael Lapsley SSM
Institute for Healing of Memories