Broadcaster, analyst and journalist Eusebius McKaiser (45) dies, sending shockwaves around the country
Although McKaiser’s journalistic legacy is undeniably complex, he will be remembered as somebody who was utterly fearless in holding politicians’ feet to the fire when he believed they were guilty of wrongdoing.
Eusebius McKaiser (45), journalist, broadcaster, analyst extraordinaire, a razor-sharp intellect, a progressive liberal and much more, died suddenly at his Johannesburg home on Tuesday, May 30.
His manager, Jackie Strydom, told Daily Maverick McKaiser had suffered a suspected epileptic seizure.
“I am afraid it is true; he passed away this afternoon, at his Johannesburg home. That is all we can confirm right now. I am distraught, his family, friends and colleagues all are.”
McKaiser’s death sent shockwaves across South Africa, particularly as he had been active on all his social media platforms hours before the news was confirmed. In one of his last tweets, McKaiser shared a video performance of a South African amputee dancer based in the UK, Musa Motha, who lost a leg because of childhood cancer and blew away the judges with his talent.
“Stop what you’re doing. Right now. You need to watch this. Wow. I … am speechless & ran out of tears.”
STOP what you’re doing. Right now. You need to watch this.
Wow. I … am speechless & ran out of tears.
Also retweet so Musa Motha becomes a household name in SA and not just a star on a UK show.
This is the inspiration you needed for this week: https://t.co/ZS4S2LLlXi
— Eusebius McKaiser (@Eusebius) May 30, 2023
At the time of his death, McKaiser was a regular contributor to TimesLIVE. “Eusebius provided the sort of thought leadership our platform and our country needed. He was lucid, erudite and his synthesis of the issues much deeper than what we see elsewhere,” said TimesLIVE editor Makhudu Sefara.
McKaiser was proudly gay. He was a strong advocate of the LGBTI community and educated the public about gay rights and the immorality of crimes committed against homosexuals, according to his biography on the Rhodes University website.
“As a political activist what matters to him is getting to grips with the social and political topics that impact on our lives, and making people sit up and take notice of this,” the website said.
Although McKaiser’s journalistic legacy is undeniably complex, he will be remembered as somebody who was utterly fearless in holding politicians’ feet to the fire when he believed they were guilty of wrongdoing. He spent the night before his death working on a podcast titled, “Is there a viable alternative to the ANC?”
In the podcast, he opined: “The effects of blackouts aren’t random, natural events. They are the foreseeable consequences of corruption, State Capture, technocratic ineptitude, and unethical and ineffectual leadership by the ANC-misled government.
“Make it a habit to tie the story of Eskom to the ANC.”
During his career, he occupied a number of top positions and contributed to SA and international media outlets including The New York Times, Radio 702, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, City Press, Newsweek International, BBC Focus on Africa, The New Republic, Financial Mail and Destiny Man.
Although McKaiser was best known by the wider public as a broadcaster, his abiding passion was debating. He was a debate champion in the 1990s and in 2011, he was the World Masters Debate Champion.
One of his most enduring friendships was with Stephen Grootes, a broadcaster and a senior contributor at Daily Maverick. Grootes first met McKaiser in the late 1990s at Rhodes University’s debating team.
“He was fresh out of school, and immensely clever, literally off the charts clever. We travelled together to Greece when he was still a teenager for a World Debating Championship — you could see how he was sizing up the world and preparing to take it on.
“Later on, at Radio 702, he had such an impact on listeners. I can’t think of another broadcaster who has had such an impact, who has been able to generate such intense emotions. So many people hated him, so many people loved him.
“There were times when he irritated me incredibly, there were times when we fought huge battles in the trenches together. I was always so glad when he and I were on the same side in a fight.
“In the process, he really increased the level and quality of debate in our society, he was able to force people to think [about] their biases, their unspoken assumptions, I think he created a space for us to have conversations that we couldn’t have anywhere else. Looking back now, I think that showed incredible levels of bravery; I don’t know anyone who could have done it as he did.”
A warm and generous friend
McKaiser’s friend of 20 years, Rebecca Davis, author and senior Daily Maverick journalist, said: “Eusebius was a public figure who frequently polarised opinion. Many people thought he was arrogant, and he was well aware of that. But the truth is that he simply knew his worth, as one of the smartest public intellectuals this country has ever produced.
“He wasn’t prepared to hide his intellect in any situation, and sometimes people resented him for it. But on a personal level, you could not find a warmer or more generous friend. His loyalty to his old friends was really remarkable and never faltered, no matter how much his fame grew. I loved him very much and I will miss him deeply.”
Tributes poured in for McKaiser. EFF national spokesperson Sinawo Tambo said: “McKaiser was not only a journalist, but he was an activist who believed in social justice and the rights of all human beings to be respected, particularly those of the most marginalised. His passing is a loss, regardless of where one lies on the political spectrum.”
ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba wrote: “Eusebius’ death has shaken me. Such a bright young man taken so soon. He recently attended one of my breakfast sessions & as usual the debates were robust & intellectually stimulating. He was someone I knew would play a vital role in fixing this country. May he rest in peace.”
IOL chief editor Lance Witten wrote: “Culturally coloured, politically black. RIP Eusebius McKaiser, an intellectual giant, an incisive mind, an outspoken and fierce defender of truth and justice.”
In the days to come, much will be written about McKaiser’s career, and some of it will be uncomplimentary. McKaiser would undoubtedly have shrugged it off. As Davis put it: “Many people thought he was arrogant, and he was well aware of that. But the truth is that he simply knew his worth.” McKaiser is survived by his life partner Nduduzo Nyanda and many family members including his “Dad”, his “aunt Helen and cousin Gail”.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) said it was “deeply saddened” by McKaiser’s death.
Sanef chairperson Sbu Ngalwa said McKaiser will be missed for his sharp intellect and contribution to the thought leadership discourse in South Africa and beyond.
“He held very strong views that he could actually back up. You just had to admire his mind whether you agreed with him or not.
“He was not shy to challenge anyone, including journalists – pointing out double standards and raising ethical issues. He really made one to sit up and take notice or to check their blind spots. He made a huge contribution to the South African media landscape. We are poorer without him,” said Ngalwa.
Glenda Daniels, Sanef Gauteng convenor, who knew him, said: “Besides the huge loss of his democratic and fearless mind, which South Africa needs so much, I will miss going to his book launches, ones he wrote, and to his other events where he was the discussant; he was a great supporter of other local writers, and he gave the biggest and warmest hugs imaginable.”
Moshoeshoe Monare, group executive for news and current affairs at the SABC, said he felt devastated and heartbroken by the news of McKaiser’s death.
“Eusebius was one of South Africa’s public intellectuals who contributed to the public broadcaster’s mission to reflect the diversity of opinions and our culture of openly debating our differences. We will remember his courage to express unpopular views,” said Monare. DM