TRIBUTE TO RAYMOND LOUW BY SHANEL SCHOOMBEE.
A MAN OF his word, arguably the king of newspaper acumen in South Africa, Raymond Louw was fondly known as Mr Press Freedom. He was bold and brave in working with the press as an anti-apartheid instrument and a dedicated force to be reckoned with. He succumbed to a heart attack on 5 June 2019. He was 92.
Louw, born on 13 October 1926, attended Parktown Boys’ High School, and worked his way up in the world. He was tireless in anything he committed to. As an 18-year-old in 1944, he took on the mantles of ‘copy boy’ for the Rand Daily Mail, the only openly anti-apartheid alternative daily newspaper in South Africa.
It was a humble job, a kind of ‘gopher’ of the newspaper’s editorial machinery. Louw applied several times to be promoted to reporter but his Afrikaans-sounding surname (even though he was English-speaking) brooked bias in the newspaper’s decision makers. It took him two years to reach this next step in his career.
Three years later, Louw married the love of his life, Jean Ramsay. They moved to the United Kingdom, where he worked from 1951 to 1956 at newspapers in Sussex, Cumbria and London.
In the late 1950s, the couple returned to South Africa; Louw was re-employed by the Rand Daily Mail, appointed news editor of the Sunday Times in 1959 and editor of the Rand Daily Mail in 1965.
His tenure as editor of the Rand Daily Mail came to closure under the draconian reign of apartheid Prime Minister, John Vorster. It was high apartheid; Louw boldly took a stand against how black journalists were suffering discrimination by the Powers That Were. He also covered news from the townships and exposed the corruption and brutality of the apartheid regime. In his 12-year career with the paper he built a liberal reputation and was an important voice for press freedom.
After leaving the Rand Daily Mail in 1977, Louw’s energy was unabated. He became general manager of South African Associated Newspapers and Chairperson of the New Era Schools Trust (which established non-racial school communities). He helped to found the Media Business Training Foundation at Wits University, which trained black business journalists – prompting the expansion of the business pages of several African-focus newspapers. When apartheid ended in 1994, Louw was South Africa’s vice president in the International Writers’ Organization (PEN).
A man of passion and incredible drive, Louw travelled extensively in his latter years, with purpose, not for pleasure: from the late 1990s he travelled through Africa, Israel and Indonesia, campaigning for the release of jailed journalists, including Cameroonian journalist, Pius Njawe, whose release he played a hand in brokering in 1998 and the Moroccan journalist, Ali Lamrabet, released in 2004. He also worked closely with President Nelson Mandela to facilitate the freedom of jailed journalists in other countries.
In collaboration with Jean, Louw started the Southern African Report, a private weekly newspaper, which they ran together and published every Wednesday for worldwide distribution until 2010, when they sold it. Jean was Louw’s anchor and source of courage and accompanied him to every conference, meeting or function dedicated to press freedom.
Louw was honoured with several awards including the Fellow Award in 1994 from The International Press Institution and the Pringle Award for Service to Journalism, in both 1976 and 1992. He was recognised for his tireless and successful campaigning for media freedom and freedom of expression and received the 2005 MISA Press Freedom Award. A popular writing achievement of his is Man of the People (Panmacmillan 2008) a photographic tribute to Nelson Mandela, which he co-authored with Peter Magubane and Benjamin Pogrund.
Louw lived a full and rich life full of many adventures, career successes and a beautiful family. Right until the end of his illustrious life, he remained engaged in current media developments.
Raymond and Jean were together for 69 years. In an interview with the SABC, their daughter, the actress Fiona Ramsay, explained that early in June of 2019, Jean, at 87, was admitted to hospital after a fall, which sadly proved fatal. Louw was at the time in another hospital, recovering from a kidney infection. He was sedated upon hearing the news of Jean’s demise and passed away 24 hours later. Ramsay said: “It is a blessing that they went together, within hours of one another because I don’t think either one would have coped without the other one terribly well.”
Louw leaves his children Derek Louw and Fiona Ramsay, his grandchildren, a bereaved press fraternity and millions of loyal readers.
- Shanel Schoombee is a first year Fine Arts student at the University of Pretoria. She is part of the VIT 101 class, being taught the rudiments of arts writing by Robyn Sassen during 2020.