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Professor Mervyn Mer: making the impossible possible




No matter the odds, Professor Mervyn Mer believes that what sometimes seems impossible might not necessarily be so.

“The expression ‘nothing is impossible’ is often bandied about, but I like to turn it around so it reads: impossible is nothing.”

Mer shared this and other insights at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards this past Sunday after being awarded the Absa Professional Excellence in the Time of COVID Award at the virtual ceremony.

This principal specialist and head of intensive care at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital was recognised for his herculean efforts in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, with associates and colleagues paying tribute to him for his work on the frontline.

“He is amongst the top representatives of our continent,” said Gauteng Premier David Makhura. “I had the responsibility of putting together the COVID advisory committee, and I had the honour of appointing Mervyn to the committee.

“I had no doubt that on that committee we had one of the top minds on our continent.”

Indeed, Mer was a key figure in the drive to better equip the hospital to battle the dreaded virus weeks before it hit the country, drawing up numerous health protocols and doubling the size of the hospital’s intensive-care unit (ICU) in record time.

“Mervyn is a leading light in the field today,” said Mer’s brother, Hilton. “He has really made an impressive and lasting contribution during the COVID period. He understood that there would be a significant need for ventilators and that the country was desperately short of the equipment.

“He did a lot of canvassing in corporate South Africa to lend assistance and support the need to buy these ventilators. He sourced and arranged 300 ventilators for South Africa, a number of which were used in his unit, but many also distributed around the country for the benefit of others.”

Other personalities attested to this fact, among them the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (whose brother Mer tended to in hospital), as well as Carol Furlonger, senior nursing sister and unit manager at the hospital.

“He managed to get that ICU ready in six weeks, which is unheard of within state,” Furlonger said. “He saved one of my own staff, and got her into ICU. If it wasn’t for him, she would be dead. Mervyn does this for every patient. Every single patient.”

Head of clinical haematology at the hospital, Professor Barry Jacobson, agreed that Mer had undoubtably been a stalwart in managing COVID-19.

“He put the ICU on the map, got outside funders, and stood at the forefront of managing patients,” Jacobson said. “He’s there in times of crisis and other times as well.”

“I’m a bit sad that the award is only for excellence in terms of COVID. It should be excellence in terms of excellence.”

In accepting the award, Mer said that the honour was really about a collective and cohesive effort on the part of all healthcare workers who had been champions of care during the pandemic. He paid tribute to all doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals, laboratory staff, administrative staff, security personnel, porters, catering staff, and others.

“All the nominees, too, are outstanding contributors and heroes, and this award is accepted on behalf of all of them and all those who have been involved in this pandemic.”

In addition to his family, Mer thanked those who had supported his medical initiatives, pointing out that there had been many valuable lessons learned over the past few months.

“Communication is pivotal in all walks of life,” he said. “Preparation is paramount – it helped us cope with this pandemic.

“I’ve always been an advocate of keeping things simple. If you do the simple things well, you’re likely to have a successful outcome most of the time. If we knew everything, it would be easy, and I guess that’s why it’s called life experience.

“We keep learning all the time, and it’s no different with COVID.”

Mer stressed that all we do should be done in the most human way, in the spirit of ubuntu, “a wonderful South African philosophy which means to be compassionate and humane. This is a philosophy well known in our community,” he said. “You need to be a mensch.”

“Working in critical care, I always like to say: it’s critical to care.”

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Nominate achievers who bring us hope



Remember when you were raving about the incredible work someone in the community had done? Well, if you haven’t done so already, now is the time to nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. You don’t have much time…

Last year, the focus was on what winners did over and beyond COVID-19 and through the toughest part of the pandemic.

This year, it’s all about hope, as we see the end of the pandemic in sight, death rates are dropping, people are vaccinated, and we are looking towards a brighter future. Who is enabling this? Who are the people who have brought us hope? Who’s bringing us hope right now, and will continue to inspire us in the future? Who are our winners?

“We are looking for those people who brought us hope in professional excellence and business leadership during these tough times,” says Howard Sackstein, the chairperson of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards and the board of the SA Jewish Report.

“Nominate those who showed true leadership and went way beyond the call of duty when there was looting and rioting in the country as well as a spike in the pandemic numbers.”

Sackstein admits that the judges’ decisions will be tough this year as many heroes have risen to the challenges of community and country. “It’s essential to create a record of these times, and those who have stood out when life was at its most challenging,” he says.

Professor Barry Schoub last year won the Kia Community Service Award for his awesome contribution to the Jewish community through COVID-19. The emeritus professor in virology at the University of the Witwatersrand and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases came out of retirement to help the community, going on to become chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines. Since his award, he has led South Africa through the process of acquiring vaccines and getting vaccinated.

Dr Mervyn Mer, who won the award for professional excellence in the time of COVID, has gone on to save many more lives from this dreaded coronavirus. He also almost singlehandedly reopened the COVID-19 ward at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital after the medical facility was closed following a fire. As the numbers of people getting desperately ill due to COVID-19 rose during the third wave, he did what he believed he needed to do to save lives.

Our other winners, Johnny Broomberg, Suzanne Ackerman-Berman, Liran Assness, Michael Katz, Wendy Fisher, Jody Scheckter, and Sir Sydney Kentridge have gone from strength to strength since then.

You have until the close of business on 3 September to make your nominations. Don’t wait, do it now. Go to

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Nominations are now open for Absa Jewish Achiever Awards 2021




  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved iconic status within the business community.


  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has played a critical leadership role in business during this period.


  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has achieved national recognition and acclaim in their profession during this period.


  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has a proven track record in entrepreneurial ventures.


  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has served the Jewish community with remarkable distinction.


  • Honouring the leadership, success and overall contributions of distinctive Jewish women in business or in the broader South African community.

in honour of Helen Suzman

  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has contributed in an extraordinary manner over a long period of time.


  • Awarded to a Jewish person who has excelled in any of these spheres.

In honour of Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris

  • Awarded to a Jewish or non-Jewish person who has contributed substantially to the betterment of the lives of the people of South Africa.

To nominate visit this page.

Nominations close at 17:00 on 3 September 2021

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Build hope by reaching out and nominating



As the sun rises through the darkness of the pandemic and looting in South Africa, we begin to renew our hope for the future, and with that, we start our search to celebrate our Absa Jewish Achievers in 2021. Nominations are now open.

This year, we will celebrate on 7 November with great ‘hope’, the theme of this year’s event that so perfectly fits our growing sentiments.

The past 18 months have been so incredibly tough on our community, our country, and our world. What with more than 200 Jewish people dying from the COVID-19 pandemic in Johannesburg alone, we have really felt the coronavirus to our core.

We haven’t been able to be at loved one’s funerals, and have sat shiva alone. We have isolated from our loved ones to protect them. We have put much of our lives on hold because of this illness. Many have lost businesses and livelihoods.

But the end of this pandemic is in sight. We have “hope” again. As we vaccinate en masse, we move towards a new tomorrow.

We survived the wholesale looting and violence of the past month, and people have gone to great lengths to help each other make it through.

As a community, we work best together. We support each other, making us stronger and more resilient.

The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is all about our community putting heads together and coming up with those unique individuals who stand head and shoulders above others.

We will pull out all the stops to celebrate our 2021 achievers on 7 November. Once again, we’ll keep it online to avoid any potential COVID-19 risks. But in so doing, we’ll bring your international fantasies to life with our annual revelry. And in so doing, we will enable far more people to participate than can fit in a large hall. Last year, we took our numbers from 1 000 to 60 000 viewers.

It’s time to look around and find those unique individuals, those gems within our community who have performed in their own areas like no other. You know who they are, and they will be given the kavod only if you nominate them for the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. It’s up to you.

“The Absa Jewish Achiever Awards is so important as it allows us as a community to take stock and celebrate our disproportionate contribution to the people of South Africa,” says Howard Sackstein, Absa Jewish Achiever chairperson.

“It allows us to create role models for everyone to emulate as we celebrate the extraordinary. In so doing, we encourage others to find greatness in their own fields.”

Though we will once again be looking for lifetime achievers this year, a humanitarian champion, and those who have gone way beyond the call of duty for the community, we are also focusing on those who have excelled in the past year.

We want to find those outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves over this past year with its unique challenges.

We are looking for nominees in the following: women in leadership; business award; entrepreneurship; business icon; professional excellence community award winner; a lifetime achiever; a winner in sport, science and culture; and a humanitarian award winner (who doesn’t have to be Jewish).

It’s up to you to nominate these people. Without your nominations, they won’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. Although there are judges involved, we need your nominations and online participation in the public vote.

This is a communal event, focusing on our magnificent community, to find the individuals that will become icons for the rest of us. “As you all know, we work best as a community, and in this, we encourage each other to take pride in the achievements of others,” says Sackstein.

Nominations are open from today, until 17:00 on 3 September.

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