A generation of staunch anti-apartheid activists are passing, and with them an ethos and a life time of activism. One of those was Raymond Louw, veteran journalist and freedom of expression campaigner, who died on 5 May, just 22 hours after his beloved wife Jean.
Raymond Louw, was the former editor of the Rand Daily Mail and Sunday Times, founding member as well as long-standing Council Member of the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef), board member of The Press Council, The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the SOS: Save Public Broadcasting Coalition and PEN, among numerous other assignations and commitments. Raymond’s dedication to the news media and freedom of expression led him to work in to the wee hours of the night and as we now know, into the wee hours of his life. Raymond simply did not stop.
He was the winner of numerous national and international media freedom awards. In 2011 he was named a “World Press Freedom Hero” by International Press Institute in Vienna for his “commitment to press freedom and his outspoken defence of journalist rights.”
In addition, he received the Pringle Medal for Services to Journalism, the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) Media Freedom Award, the Mondi-Shanduka Newspaper Lifetime Achiever Award, and he was a three-time winner of the Sanef Stephen Wrottesley award, awarded for his tireless commitment to the organisation. He also received two honorary doctorates from Rhodes University and Wits respectively.
Louw died after a brief hospitalisation and a day after his beloved wife Jean, with whom he shared his passion for journalism and together they produced the weekly newsletter Southern African Report distributed worldwide.
In his tribute to Louw, President Ramaphosa said he was “a brave and principled journalist and a champion of press freedom…throughout his illustrious career, he reminded us of the critical importance of media freedom to the health of our democracy”.
Louw was a courageous editor who actively covered the atrocities of the apartheid regime during the John Vorster era, and among other stories the arrest and subsequent death of Steve Biko. He worked tirelessly to fight and to have removed the residual legacies of apartheid as enshrined through media legislation in South Africa, and actively fought new proposed restrictive media legislation. He welcomed and endorsed legislation enhancing freedom of expression, access to information and the protection of journalists and their sources.
Louw was a keen mentor to many younger journalists and activists around him and just a few months ago he donated his library of media books and reports to the journalism students at the University of Johannesburg. True to nature, packing up the books was not something he outsourced, instead he carried boxes and filled up the car one load after the other with the same dedication that he has shown to journalism and freedom of expression over the course of his lifetime. These books and reports, often with minute and meticulous notes inserted, shall now pass through many other eager hands.
Even though his work extended far beyond South Africa, it is us as a nation that owe him great gratitude. Rest in Peace.
Raymond and wife Jean are survived by their son Derek Louw and daughter, actress Fiona Ramsay.