Character building transforming community

Flowing from a Kingdom vision, steps of restoration through education

Like many beautiful towns in South Africa, Bonnievale is full of potential. However, limited education and employment opportunities gave way to a hopelessness and lack of self-value among the youth. 

You see the hope in their eyes fading as they grow older,” Philip Jonker, owner of Weltevrede Wine Estate and trustee at Jakes Gerwel Education (JGE) Funding Trust, explains. Inevitably, the symptoms surface in upsetting statistics of gangsterism, teenage pregnancies, domestic violence, abuse and poverty.

To make matters worse, the town had no way of providing local high school education for the majority of its youth. Sensing the growing crisis, 15 concerned residents started praying into a vision to counter the hopelessness. 

Electrical engineer and fellow trustee, Curren Kühn, who grew up in Bonnievale, believes their next steps of faith were answered by “something resembling miraculous proportions”.

In January 2016, the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) agreed to contribute 40% of the needed R100 million to build the new high school. A local farmer donated 12 hectares of his farmland to be used as schoolgrounds. Architecture and construction contractors agreed to work free of charge. The rezoning of the land, which usually takes more than two years of patience, transpired within six months. 

One year later, in January 2007, the construction of the Jakes Gerwel Technical (JGT) school began. In 2018, the school welcomed 240 Grades 8 and 9 learners. They have since grown with a second intake of 120 Grade 8s, also mentoring their first Grade 10 group this year.


From the start, the stakeholders realised character building would be an essential part of changing the course of destiny for the youth. When the school first opened, learners’ behaviour reflected the symptoms of the destructive circumstances they come from. Teachers had to deal with outbursts of aggression, violence and physical conflict – some incidents even involving dangerous weapons. It took eight months for the first signs of change to surface – and the journey continues as testimonies of changing lives are underway.

Learners are guided along the themes of identity, resilience, believing in God’s plan for their lives, making the difficult choices and following the unique calling for their lives. “We see the learners of JGT as way makers of the future to change the world they live in. They will need strength of character to make it. We can mentor from experience. The development of character is a long, hard journey,” Jonker explains. 

Teachers are trained as character builders, serving as mentors to disciple each of the 20 learners in their care. “For most learners who come from broken families, the school is a safe haven,” says Fez Fethule, character builder at JGT. “The heart of the vision is spiritual mentorship,” Philip says, “We decided to appoint young teachers with a calling to make a difference, under mentorship of experienced educators. We specifically recruit teachers who the learners can identify with. Some are from our own community or a similar background. They provide a valuable link and also help to build trust amongst the parents within the community,” Philip reveals.


The curriculum is focused on building self-worth, educating learners about the practical value of knowledge. The school also caters for those who struggle to read and write with a school of skills (SOS) and technical workshops. Providing engineering and the agricultural know-how, the education is aligned with local employment opportunities. 

Bonnievale’s situation is not unique. Statistics show that 60% of children in South Africa drop out of school. Only 30% of matriculants seek employment, often failing to succeed due to a lack of skills matching the opportunity in their area. Sadly, this explains the current youth unemployment rate of 40%. The government will not be able to accomplish the National Development Plan (NDP) goals for 2030 by itself.

“If we build relationships, we can transform a community,” Wilhelm de Wet, local businessman, trustee and actuary, says. “When we get involved with a big vision for our communities … and the greatness of God who is the only One to make it possible, we realise … where there is such unity, love and humility, God commands His blessing,” Jonker says. 


The vision of the school is a kingdom vision, which forged a deep love among us and eroded race, socio-economic background, qualification and stature. This love of God made many people step over old boundaries,” Jonker shares. “Everybody came together to pick up stones from the rugby field, take out vineyards … there were companies contributing financially, others with their machines and services.”

“It truly had all the characteristics of Mergon’s signature Kingdom expansion projects, a project born in faith, born from the society that it would serve and one that mobilises corporate social impact in the most productive way,” says Etienne Piek, Regional Manager SA at Mergon Foundation. 


Currently trusting for funding to welcome 1200 learners by 2020, the opportunity to collaborate with JGE continues. Among other ongoing donations, such as those from local farmers delivering fresh produce for the feeding scheme, partnerships with the private sector make the model sustainable. 


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