'A big tree has fallen'

The last of the old-school newspapermen in Namibia, Des Erasmus, has died at the age of 81.

14 September 2018 | People

Tributes and messages of condolences are streaming in from far and wide following the news of the death of Des Erasmus, a legendary figure in the Namibian media industry.

A veteran journalist who had worked in the local media for almost 60 years to the day, Erasmus yesterday passed away at Swakopmund, where he had lived for years.

Erasmus, who was deemed a role model by many journalists, celebrated his 81st birthday on 30 August, just days after being diagnosed with cancer, and retired shortly afterwards.

After joining the media industry on 1 August 1959 as a cub reporter at the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Erasmus soon became a highly respected journalist and groomed many local journalists, some of whom eventually became editors.

He then joined Die Suidwester and its subsidiary, Joernaal, as reporter and eventually as editor until 1981.

He also served as editor of Republikein, as well as its subsidiaries, Sunday Republikein, Times of Namibia and Tempo before going into semi-retirement, only to become editor of Namibia Media Holdings' Erongo publication for more than a decade.

Erasmus received numerous accolades for his work, including 60 journalism awards such as the Southern African Journalist of the Year at the Sanlam Media Awards for Community Press during the year 2000. He also published several short-story collections about Namibia and its people.

Former Republikein editor Estelle du Bruyn said it is with fondness that she bids him farewell.

Du Bruyn met Erasmus in 1981 when she worked at the South West African Broadcasting Corporation and was struck by his incredible knowledge of the country, its people and the politics. She reminisces how he generously shared this knowledge with her, an inexperienced young journalist.

“His sense of humour was another outstanding characteristic that I will always remember. Even after he became ill and on his 81st birthday that we celebrated a few days ago, that wonderful razor-sharp humour was still in evidence.

“If I close my eyes I still see him behind his desk at Republikein in the Swakopmund office, a mug of strong, black coffee always at hand. Des was one of those journalists who earned the trust of newsmakers who would share information with him that they would never share with other journalists. We would joke that stories literally came to him, while other reporters would have to dig for news.

“I will miss him very much and I can only express my sincerest condolences to Anneli and his loved ones,” De Bruyn said.

Erasmus is not only remembered for his tenacity but for being a perfectionist and a hard taskmaster for those under his wings.

Erasmus was a perfectionist, remembered former Republikein sports reporter Boet Matthews.

He reminisced how Erasmus used to call him “Boetie”.

“He is irreplaceable. He could write everything and his death is a big loss to the Afrikaans newspaper industry,” said Matthews.

Another veteran journalist, Willie Olivier, said calling Erasmus a legendary man is not an exaggeration. “Indeed, a big tree has fallen.”

Olivier described the late Erasmus as an exceptional storyteller who had an unbelievable passion for journalism, and especially Afrikaans.

“He is one of the old-school journalists, as they say, the old tigers. And what I can say about him is that he had a remarkable hunger for work. That ability is rare among many of the people that are now in the newsroom and those less than half of his age. No one is his equal,” said Olivier.

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