Categories: Dan Bongino, Opinions848 words3,2 min read

John Kane-Berman remembered

Tributes from across the spectrum illuminate the high regard that former IRR chief executive John Kane-Berman earned in a lifetime devoted to fearlessly championing freedom and fairness.

Kane-Berman, who died after a short illness on Wednesday, is remembered as an incisive analyst, gifted writer and skilled manager, especially during his tenure as IRR CEO between 1983 and 2014.

The following tribute is from long-time friend and associate, and fellow liberal, Theo Coggin.

When told on Wednesday night of John’s death, it came to me that a giant African tree had fallen.

I worked with John in the late 1980s as Editor of the then Race Relations News, into the 1990s as his deputy director and then as a member of the SA Institute of Race Relations Board and Council. It was my privilege to be the Chairman of the Board to which John so meticulously reported in the last years of his full-time employment by the Institute. This was my formal relationship with him but, more importantly, John and I forged a unique friendship from the mid-1980s until his death in which my wife, Ruth, and I were able to share many happy moments with John and his beloved Pierre.

As a colleague, John was always both demanding and fair and, in my experience, never failed to look out for the well-being of those who reported to him. He was forthright and always set the highest work ethic for himself. Quite correctly, he expected high standards from the Institute, its researchers and other staff, and in this, he and I were always ad idem. Many was the late night we spent musing over current affairs and the work of the Institute. And then John would return to his lifelong quest to turn out the most outstanding and unequalled research covering a vast array of topics that was read by members of every political persuasion.

Without a shadow of doubt, South Africa has lost a brilliant mind. The richness of John’s personality was such that he could combine his high professional standards with a passionate regard for the wellbeing of all humanity. He could not stand people who were racists in any shape or form and, in the many things that will be written about John, it bears repeating that this was the man who would put himself at risk by covering, as a reporter, the brutal onslaught by apartheid police on defenceless South Africans from all walks of life as they sought freedom from the yoke of the Nationalist government’s myopic racial policies. This should not be surprising, because John was a man not only of principle but also of immense courage. He had a great respect for diversity, exemplified by the wide array of Presidents who served the Institute during his tenure, including the indomitable Helen Suzman, and Bishop Stanley Mogoba, a Pan Africanist.

On a personal note, John valued highly and practised in his life the quality of loyalty and trust and respected that quality in others. A man of deep faith, John’s love of the English language was well illustrated by his insistence on using the original Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible. John was also essentially a family man. I did not know his father, other than through John, who would often tell us of the seminal role of his father in his life and in the Torch Commando and the Liberal Party. On the last occasion I spoke to him, he told me at length about the success of his brothers, their children and extended family. Most memorable was the manner in which he loved and cared for his mother, Gaby. In her final days, he would visit her every night, drink a whisky with her, and read to her. He was a son, brother and uncle par excellence. Ruth and I will miss John, with his quick wit and brilliant mind, in our home to which he and Pierre were regular visitors and always every Christmas when he loved to have a traditional roast and potatoes. In his charming way, he would coax Ruth into playing the organ so that he could sing the carols and other hymns he so loved. Not least among these was Adeste fidelis (O come all ye faithful), in which some eight verses would be sung by the four of us in Latin, John impeccably so! I think John was often at his happiest in moments like these, not least because he and Pierre, his soulmate, husband and partner of fifty years, were among close friends.

To Pierre and the family, we send our condolences in your loss and thank you for sharing him with us. We and the Institute can celebrate a huge legacy in the life of John. We will all treasure his memory.

                Though ‘sundered far, by faith we meet round one common Mercy Seat.

* Friends and acquaintances are invited to share their reminiscences of John Kane-Berman by sending them to [email protected], and we will add them to this condolences page.

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Daily Friend


Juli 29, 2022


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