Mother, teacher, comrade – these and many more is what Jessica Hendricks, 51, was to many as family, friends, colleagues and pupils came in droves to pay tribute to her at her funeral at the Blue Downs United Church on Saturday November 12.
A political activist and founder member of the Rocklands Youth Movement in 1982 and part of the inauguration of the Cape Youth Congress in 1983, Ms Hendricks, who lost her battle with cancer on Tuesday November 8, was also a teacher at Montagu Drive Primary School in Portland and taught English at Rhenish Girls’High School in Stellenbosch from 2008 until of late.
Born to Patricia and the late Basil Hendricks on July 16 1965, Ms Hendricks attended Portland and Rocklands high schools and matriculated in 1983.
She obtained her teacher qualifications at Hewat College in Cape Town, Dower College in Port Elizabeth and an Honours degree in Linguistics and a Master’s degree in English at the University of the Western Cape.
She married Zain Semaar in 1992 and the couple had a son Riyahn.
Having diverse interests, Ms Hendricks played netball as a teen, belonged to the Krotoa Book Club, loved soccer and her family and friends remember her as someone who loved to party, dance and spend time with them.
They also recalled her love for board games and, “of course, klawerjas”, said her sister Noleen. “She was a sore loser.”
“Despite the solemnness of the occasion, it is good that Jess still brings so many of us, who have not seen each other for some years, together again,” said Logan Wort, another Mitchell’s Plain political activist and former adviser to former cabinet minister, Trevor Manuel.
“I am humbled today to pay tribute to Comrade Jess, as many of us called her. I first met Jessica in 1982 when, with Sharon Davids, Belinda Newman, Colin du Toit and others, we founded the Rocklands Youth Movement. It was to be a path we were to walk for more than 30 years.
“Jess was a true revolutionary who believed in building the good society – a dynamic youth leader in Mitchell’s Plain in the 1980s. As a young activist, she cut her political teeth in the reading groups set up by the late Johnny Issel, her community work in support of the Rocklands Ratepayers’ Association of Willie Simmers and in the establishment of the local branch of the Congress of South African Students.
“Committed and hard-working, Jess was part of the local organising team for the historical launch of the United Democratic Front. Préparation of the event, its logistics and security was a big task. This included hosting thousands of people from outside of Cape Town.
“We were all so very young then … and carried so much responsibility. No task was too daunting, we were dedicated young people with a focus on freedom and a belief in the ANC.
“The unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements brought much excitement to all of us. Like us, Jess was ready to receive the leaders of our movement, the ANC. Yet at the time, there was a question many among us had, not least Jess herself, the absence of the nonracial narrative for the rhetoric of our leaders. In the Mass Democratic Movement, we were all taught, and this we propagated to our communities, that we were all black. That seem to have changed.
“In her last days I am told, Jessica lamented the loss of direction of our liberation movement, the pervasiveness of corruption, and the greed of our leadership and their cronies. Like us, she looked on as the gains of our hard-won struggle are being eroded by comrades who became corrupt and lost focus of the betterment of the people.
“Today we must make the call. We must make it for Jessica, for Ashley (Kriel) and Coline (Williams). We must make the call for Dorothy Zihlangu and Wilfred Rhodes, for Johnny Issel and Oscar Mpetha. We need to say not in our name. History will severely judge us if we do not confront the government as we did the apartheid government. There is no time for sentiment. We promised our people a better life.
“It’s time for seasoned activists to come out of ‘retirement’ and reclaim the political space and regain the moral compass. We must defend our democracy and rebuild our party,” Mr Wort said.
“And as we say our final goodbye to a hero, a cadre, a comrade of our time, let us say thank you Jessica Hendricks – thank you for your life, dedication and commitment to the struggle for freedom.
“Ours is to submit to you that we will retake the spear and fight on. In our lifetime no citizen should go homeless, uneducated or hungry.”
Ms Hendricks is survived by her son Riyahn, mother Patricia and sister Noleen.