Farewell Commoning Fellow – A Tribute to Silke Helfrich from the Cape Town office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation

A tribute from the Cape Town office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation to Silke Helfrich, a former colleague, an author, a pioneer, an intellectual and someone whom we called a friend.

As much of human history confirms, people are able to accomplish a great deal with each other in self-determined, self-organized, needs-oriented ways, without commercial interests prioritizing everything. Commons serve many purposes, as we will see…”[1]

The sudden death of Silke Helfrich, a German author and independent activist, has left people across the globe shocked and with a deep sense of loss. The HBF remembers Silke as a pioneer, an intellectual, friend and activist. Her passing leaves a huge void in commons research and the international commons community. She was one of the most important and much needed voices in the international commoning debate always reminding activists, academics, business people and politicians of what is at stake when the commons are enclosed. Sadly, for the HBF Cape Town Office, our journey with Silke Helfrich had only just begun.

Our Office’s engagement with Silke began in 2019 after the publication of Free Fair and Alive, co-written with David Bollier. Invited by South African activists, scholars and artists, Silke spent over ten days in Cape Town and Johannesburg, a few short weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown was declared. Silke generously gave her time, shared her reflections and both received and asked many questions. “Many activists met her during that time, particularly during an intense and beautiful event at Cissie Gool House.  For me Silke was a person who questioned things, that she was always looking for other points of view…” says Andrea Couvert, Project Manager of the Cape Town Commoners project.

Our colleague Thokozile Madonko took full advantage of her time with Silke during those ten days. In between the seminars, talks and work they took full advantage of their common love for hiking and nature.  “Silke was a warm and empathetic person. Someone who was able to so beautifully combine scholarly excellence with art, music and storytelling… and always ready with those killer questions even while hiking”, says Thokozile.

As the world was adjusting (or not) to the “new normal” Silke had remarked, in what would be her last exchange with Thokozile, that she wanted to write –in Silke’s own words “there is so much to say about COVID-19 and the commons – but I need the dust to settle and take a break”. Undoubtedly, Silke’s early departure leaves a huge void – for us as her colleagues and new friends and of course all the more for those closest to her. Our condolences go out to all, hoping that they may find solace in the knowledge that her life and work which she gave freely, fairly and always lively, touched the lives of so many.

Hamba Kahle, Silke! Rest in common peace!