Obituary Gero Schmitz
The German Africa Foundation mourns the passing of its former Executive Director Gero Schmitz

After spending six years in the German Parliament, the current Honorary Chairman of the German Africa Foundation, Prof Dr Karl-Heinz Hornhues, thought of the idea of founding pro-Africa organisation, which was then named the German Africa Foundation e.V.. It was his employee at the parliamentary office, Gero Schmitz, who became the man of the hour and rendered outstanding services to the establishment of the association.

This included looking after the members recruited by the chairman of the association, initially mainly from the CDU/CSU party, the arduous communication with the donor, the Federal Foreign Office and later with the auditing authorities. The managing director usually navigated elegantly around any pitfall that he endured in the process; sometimes, however, the cliffs were all too close to the water’s surface.

Schmitz also succeeded very well in organising lectures and events. Because the apartheid regime in South Africa was still firmly in the saddle, many people were interested in the neighbouring continent of Africa at the end of the 1970s. Africa interested many people in Germany at the end of the 1970s. As a young man at the time, Gero Schmitz managed to set new and unfamiliar approaches. This was made all the more difficult at a time when the association was enduring periods of financial trouble.

From the very beginning, the financing of the magazine “Afrika-Post” was always a headache. Finding print advertisements for the “Afrika-Post” was a Sisyphean task – and did not always result in success. While the editorial work of Dr. Sören Roos almost always went smoothly, it often required considerable additional efforts on the part of Gero Schmitz to secure the finances. The managing director succeeded through his personal sponsors for events and publications and to gradually free himself from the clamps of the authorities.

Thanks to the cooperative collaboration of the German Africa Foundation Board and the Managing Director, the foundation consolidated itself and became a permanent fixture in Bonn. Gero Schmitz built up a solid network of close contacts with many African embassies, on which he could rely. He also grew evermore actively involved with Africa, which is by no means a matter of course for a lawyer in the German Parliament! Something that should appear self-evident!

The still young association was also gradually accepted as a partner by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Gero Schmitz was also helpful in acquiring members, who did not hold the CDU party membership. In this way, the institution, which was repeatedly criticised as the “CDU-Africa Foundation”, slowly became an organisation that was recognised by business and society. Close ties developed with the German Investment and Development Society (DEG), the KfW, large companies in the Ruhr area and the Africa Association of German Business (AV) in Hamburg. The AV then contributed to the financial survival of the “Afrika-Post” over the years. But he also forged links with Transparency International and Amnesty International.

With the change in world politics at the beginning of the 90s and the first free elections in South Africa, Hornhues’ idea of a “German Africa Award” (DAP) could be realised. But here, too, there was a threat of failure due to a lack of funding. So Gero Schmitz had to overcome the reservations of the Federal Foreign Office once again as the funding agency on the one hand and find sponsors for the DAP on the other, a difficult balancing act.

Privately, things were not easy for Gero Schmitz, especially during this period. For a long time, his father was in need of care, but throughout his life he made very high demands on his son, and probably did not agree with his dropping out of law school and working for an MP or an association. It was not until his father’s death that the son, who was born in August 1948 in Barkhausen, was able to close this chapter. During this time, his brothers of the Corps Saxonia Jena et Bonn were always there to support and help him. This close bond lasted until the end of his life on 9 November 2020.

In the 1990s, the Major of the Reserve was deployed several times as military attaché in representation in African countries. The Federal Foreign Office invited him as a member to state delegation trips in Africa, where he was able to expand his network.

His health and private life then took a turn for the worse. Back problems and Diabetes darkened his daily life, as did the bankruptcy of a property developer.

Professionally, however, things continued to progress well: the Africa Prize had become a permanent fixture in Bonn, participation in EU funding projects for South Africa secured additional income for the foundation and with Goldman Sachs, Gero Schmitz gained a solvent sponsor. Modern for its time, the foundation’s office was equipped with PCs, IBM ballpoint typewriters and a fax machine – which coincidentally for some DAS members almost too much “modern knickknacks”. With the Moser printing company in Rheinbach, Gero Schmitz had also found a competent partner for the “Afrika-Post”.

In connection with the relocation of the German Parliament and the German Africa Foundation, the foundation finally parted company with its managing director. Schmitz remained in Bonn, the Foundation however moved to Berlin.

Even if only a few of the current staff of the German Africa Foundation still know Gero Schmitz, the former managing director deserves appreciation and recognition for the work he has achieved to build up the foundation. Schmitz tirelessly fought the battle against difficult bureaucratic hurdles and pushed through new and dynamic ideas with an untiring will.

Among the student songs that Gero Schmitz particularly appreciated as a corps student were “Gaudeamus Igitur” by Christian Wilhelm Kindleben. These following stanzas were always of particular importance to him:

Vita nostra brevis est,
Brevi finietur,
Venit mors velociter,
Rapit nos atrociter,
Nemini parcetur.

 

Vivat et respublica,
Et qui illam regit,
Vivat nostra civitas,
Mecaenatum caritas,
Quae nos hic protegit

18.2.2021, Jürgen Langen
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