Farewell Eusebius – family and friends pay tribute to the ‘philosopher king’
The untimely death of renowned South African broadcaster Eusebius McKaiser sent shockwaves through the country. At his memorial on Tuesday, family and friends remembered the unique power of his voice in our democratic landscape.
Mourners gathered in Parktown, Johannesburg, on Tuesday to commemorate the extraordinary life and accomplishments of the broadcaster, author and political analyst Eusebius McKaiser.
Tributes from family, friends and colleagues were punctuated by outtakes from McKaiser’s own broadcasts, in which he reflected on everything from politics to homophobia, lactose-free milk to the treatment of animals. Attendees brought books rather than flowers to the ceremony, to be donated to charity by McKaiser’s family in honour of his avid love of reading.
“Perhaps there’s a reason why this grief feels so intractable and insurmountable, and the reason, I think, is it’s not just a personal loss,” said Redi Tlhabi, a veteran media personality and long-time friend of McKaiser.
“I think the reason some of us feel that way is because we recognise that even as some found [McKaiser’s] opinions intolerable for whatever reason, or described him as arrogant… his detractors recognised his genius; his detractors know that he was a necessary force in our society.
“If we are to think about that interface of journalism and democracy, we cannot deny the fact that Eusebius’ voice was so pivotal to our democratic edifice.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Broadcaster, analyst and journalist Eusebius McKaiser (45) dies, sending shockwaves around the country
McKaiser died on 30 May at the age of 45 after an apparent epileptic seizure — a condition he was originally diagnosed with in 2008.
During his career, he worked for an array of South African and international media outlets, including Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent, City Press, The New York Times, Radio 702, Newsweek International, BBC Focus on Africa, The New Republic, Financial Mail and Destiny Man.
At the time of his death, he was a regular contributor to TimesLIVE. The publication’s parent company, Arena Holdings, hosted the memorial.
A memorial service will be held for the late broadcaster and author Eusebius McKaiser on Tuesday, a week after his sudden death.https://t.co/TJEyfliF34
— Times LIVE (@TimesLIVE) June 5, 2023
TimesLIVE editor and Sunday Times deputy editor Makhudu Sefara described McKaiser as a “philosopher king”, adding, “We called him an intellectual machine because if you know his work rate, when he’s on to something he doesn’t stop.”
McKaiser knew that while talent provided a person with a foundation, and passion informed their choices, this alone was not enough, according to Tlhabi.
“If we think we have something to share with the world, we are duty-bound to do the work,” she said.
“He had huge respect for that effort… To be so supremely talented and still take the time to do the work shows respect for us as his audience, and it is a lesson for those of us who still believe we have something to contribute in our lives as journalists.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Eusebius McKaiser — Brilliant, cocky, unapologetically himself
What set McKaiser apart from other talented people was his willingness to take a stand, to have an agenda, continued Tlhabi.
“When you come to societies such as ours where people are hanging by threads, where our democracies are in precarious balance, where the bad threatens to overwhelm the good… Eusebius had an agenda.
“His agenda was to speak up for the underdog. His agenda was to amplify his voice against bigotry. His agenda was to put himself between that fatal strike of power and corruption… and those who would be victims of such a strike,” she said.
His own harshest critic
News24 journalist Karyn Maughan said that when she first met McKaiser at Rhodes University, she was very intimidated by him, before discovering that he was his own harshest critic.
“The excellence you expected from others was the very same excellence you constantly demanded of yourself,” she said.
“I don’t even know if you realise how powerfully you mentored so many young and upcoming journalists, analysts, legal professionals, to move from just being good to being excellent…
“You have left a generation of courageous thinkers behind you.”
For McKaiser, learning did not end after university, and reading was a consistent part of his daily regime, said Joanne Joseph, a media personality and author.
“He longed for us as Africans to find our stories, to take pride in them, to write and read them so we could develop a greater sense of self and our history. He wanted us to break our prejudices by penetrating the lives of the marginalised through these encounters,” she explained.
During the course of his life, McKaiser produced three books on racism and politics. His commentary remains widely available on new sites and through his podcasts.
“His words have guaranteed his immortality,” said Joseph.
Many of McKaiser’s friends agreed he had a penchant for gossip, but emphasised that it generally came from a place of love. Vukani Mde, who first met McKaiser in 2005 when they were both working for Business Day, said the broadcaster would always preface gossip with a “laundry list” of all the things he loved about the person being discussed.
“I suppose you could call it ‘constructive gossip’ — he’s always committed to building even when he’s breaking down,” he said.
“He is one of my dear friends. A friend that I love so much and always will. [His death] leaves me with a deep, deep wound. I am hurting and probably always will be.”
Nduduzo Nyanda, McKaiser’s partner, reflected on how he first interacted with the broadcaster as a regular caller on his Power FM show. After they finally met in person, it took only a week for them to move in together.
“I remember telling him within the second week that I thought he was my soulmate, and being the logical person he was, he told me not to be irrational,” he said.
Among the things Nyanda will miss most about McKaiser is knowing he has someone who loves and gives of himself fully. He described his partner as someone who could spot an inauthentic person a mile away.
“What I want to do is just make a short promise to him: I promise to always be my authentic self; [that I’ll] live as fully, as honestly as you do,” he said.
“I promise to continue reading books… I’ll continue doing right by you, and immortalising you and never forgetting you. But most importantly, I promise to never accept mediocrity, because that is who you were.” DM