A tribute to the late PEN SA Vice-President, Raymond Louw

06 Jun 2019
Raymond Louw

PEN SA is sad to announce the passing of its Vice-President, Raymond Louw. Louw passed away on Tuesday, 4 June at the age of 93, less than 24 hours after his wife, Jean.

During his more than 60 years as a journalist, Louw established himself as one of South Africa’s most important free media and -expression stalwarts.

His work in this regard involved participation in commissions of inquiry, issuing press statements, making representations to parliamentary committees and writing articles for publication in the local media. It also entailed – both in his PEN SA and personal capacity – adding his voice to and amplifying local and international campaigns advocating for freedom of speech and the media.

Louw’s tireless advocacy work was widely recognised with numerous awards and honours bestowed upon him:

In 2010, Louw was named a World Press Freedom Hero by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). The award cited his “commitment to press freedom and his outspoken defence of journalists’ rights”.

In 2015, he received an honorary Doctorate of Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand.

In 2016, Louw was the recipient of the inaugural PEN South Africa Freedom of Expression Champion Award.

In addition to being the Vice-President of PEN South Africa, Louw was also the Chairperson of the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF); Editor & Publisher of Southern Africa Report; a member of the Executive Board International Press Institute; Chairman of the Freedom of Expression Institute; and Chairman of the New Era Schools Trust. He was also a former editor of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper.

As a member of the International Press Institute, Louw helped  to compose the annual critical statements and protest resolutions against the apartheid government’s policies and as chairman of the IPI resolutions committee,  contributed to shaping policy on press freedoms in South Africa’s constitutional dispensation.

Louw will be greatly missed for his dedicated service and support to PEN SA.

As news of his death broke on Wednesday morning, social media platforms were flooded with tributes to Louw, affectionately referred to as ‘Oom Ray’.

PEN SA Special Advisor and professional member, Margie Orford tweeted: “What a loss to all of us @pen_int @pen_southafrica @IndexCensorship . A man of such integrity, intelligence, principle and compassion. I admired him so and he taught me the value of free speech and how to hear the views of others with an open mind and an open heart.”

“Raymond was an inspiration, a champion of freedom of expression. I met him on too few occasions, but his clarity and commitment were a lesson for others,” tweeted Salil Tripathi, PEN International’s Writers in Prison Chair.

“R.I.P Oom Ray. Journalist, editor & world press freedom hero. Not only did you speak truth to power for decades, you lived it. Thank you for setting the example & for your support,” tweeted Angela Quintal, PEN SA member and Africa Program Coordinator of The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

News24 editor-in-chief, Adriaan Basson shared: “A giant has fallen. RIP oom Raymond Louw. 24 hours after his wife, Jean. Privileged that I could have learnt from someone who dedicated his life to press freedom. We shall continue to carry the torch.”

Louw’s fellow PEN SA board members have also shared special tributes to their colleague:

“All of us at PEN SA are so saddened by the news of Raymond Louw’s passing. We are immeasurably grateful to him for his years of dedicated service to our organisation. His profound commitment to principal and his energised but always courteous engagement with difficult issues made him a trusted and deeply valued board member. He will be much missed but we will continue to be inspired by his immense contribution and excellent example,” PEN SA President, Nadia Davids shared.

“I met Ray many times while I was working at the Journalism Department at Wits University. But, of course, as a student of South African media, I knew of him for many decades before. His life of sacrifice and service for South Africa, through exemplary journalism, was a standard for all the generations who followed him. In person, he was always warm and interested and approachable.

And then I had the pleasure of serving on the board of PEN SA with him, and there I saw his deep-seated passion for fighting for freedom of expression around the world. He was a tireless champion, and we are all going to feel his loss,” writes PEN SA board member Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi.

“Raymond Louw was a man of such integrity, intelligence, principle and compassion. He and I served together on the board of PEN South Africa. He taught me the value of free speech and how to hear the views of others with an open mind and an open heart. He was unfailingly courteous and patient but on matters of principle – always informed by knowledge and decades of experience – he was uncompromising.

His contributions to the press and it’s freedoms were valued highly in South Africa and throughout the world. He will be much missed for all of these qualities. But also for his self-deprecating humour. He died one day after his beloved wife, Jean. His loyalty to her and the esteem and affection that he had for her were remarkable. He has given South Africa so much. I will miss him – both his courage and his caution – a great deal,” PEN SA Special Advisor and professional member, Margie Orford shared.

PEN SA extends its deepest condolences to the Louw family.