Perry Feldman Tribute - Leon Louw

Thousands, perhaps millions, of people who will never know it, have been impacted by Perry Feldman’s untimely death with Covid. They may never own their homes, or be forced to wait indefinitely.

Those of us privileged to have known Perry as a dear friend and amazing person, and who worked with him and his wife, Veronica, as they drove one of South Africa’s greatest causes, are in shock and mourning.

Above all, our hearts go out to Veronica and loved ones who grieve with her.

A friend of mine cautioned against me being excessively effusive about Perry, with good reason. Paying due tribute to Perry – doing him justice – might seem hyperbolic to those who never knew him. Perry negated the need for the sixth century Chilon of Sparta injunction, "Of the dead say nothing but good" (De mortuis nil nisi bonum). There is nothing but good to say about Perry. Dr Johann Rupert, who knew Perry and Veronica well, called him a “saint”.

The way in which Perry entered the hearts of all in and connected with the Free Market Foundation reflects the measure of the man. It started when he called on me to ask what I thought he could do for his Ngwathe (Parys, FS Prov) community after farming and trading there for years. I suggested the cause I held closest to my heart since the 1960s, namely redressing apartheid’s greatest crime, land deprivation for black people.

When Perry and Veronica realised the significance and enormity of what we later called Khaya Lam (My Home), they dedicated their lives to it. They took over from me being the project’s principal driver; arranged for thousands to walk into titling ceremonies as tenants and out as owners. Typical property value to titling cost ratios yield 2000% returns on what sponsors invest when dead capital is liberated into the hands of owners and the economy.

But Perry was adamant that economic value, however spectacular, mattered less than human dignity, pride, security, leaving a legacy, and liberty afforded recipients.

Perry’s last chat with me was about how we could extend titling beyond “low hanging fruit” (relatively easy situations where there are “township registers” with “proclaimed” land) to challenging situations like “informal settlements” and “tribal villages” where there are no registers, town-planning schemes, or surveyed boundaries. We agreed that we would not rest until all properties, as many as eight million, worth an entire national budget, were titled.

Now that we have lost this uniquely beloved man, he leaves me determined to work with all who want to fulfil his legacy.

Saying that Perry was larger than life, one of a kind, and irreplaceable are not clichés. He was a creative fixer with an unwavering determination to overcome obstacles. As a Jewish Free State farmer he epitomised ‘n boer maak ‘n plan. Fluent in Afrikaans, and integrated with the farming community, he had also been an anti-apartheid activist. His diverse connections enabled him to secure political goodwill from all communities, as well as political parties in local and provincial government, without which Khaya Lam would fail.

For Perry’s colleagues, I wanted to post videos of Perry in one of the many titling ceremonies he organised with clockwork efficiency, often against formidable odds. I have many videos, but found that he featured in almost none. So I posted one in which he does not appear, except fleetingly, as if from nowhere, to resolve a glitch he’d noticed from afar where he always kept an eye on everything.

Although Perry was every event’s orchestrator, he never sought recognition and said only what was required administratively. He always pushed others forward and kept a close watch on every detail.

I marvelled at how he treated everyone who arrived as if they were his top priority.

It is hard to believe that anyone will replace Perry. It will require a multidisciplinary team where there was one person.

We are in deep shock and mourning as we reflect on how blessed we were to know and spend time with Perry. Usually with Veronica by his side, we travelled to remote parts of the country from one end to the other, to persuade the local governments run by three political parties to implement or permit titling.

This unpretentious and stalwart man was an unsung hero who will be deeply missed.

In loving memory of Perry Feldman who died on 30 May 2021
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