Man of many tal­ents and wise words

CityPress - - Voices -

On his 80th birth­day, Lionel Mor­ri­son’s fam­ily gave him a sur­prise – a book con­tain­ing nearly 150 trib­utes to him. The con­trib­u­tors were peo­ple from South Africa, the coun­try of his birth; the UK, his adopted home; and from all the coun­tries where Lionel had served in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties, largely as a re­spected jour­nal­ist and jour­nal­ism trade union­ist: Ghana, Zam­bia, In­done­sia, China, etc.

The cover of the book has a por­trait of Lionel that cap­tures the spirit of the man – he’s wear­ing a hat, sprout­ing a bit of stub­ble on his chin, and he’s smil­ing broadly, the laugh lines around his eyes prom­i­nent.

A few days af­ter his 81st birth­day, he died af­ter a long ill­ness. He will be cre­mated in Lon­don on Novem­ber 19 and his ashes will be brought back home to South Africa.

Lionel hap­pily left this world know­ing what the peo­ple around him thought of him – his fam­ily and friends, his col­leagues in jour­nal­ism, his com­rades in the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle strad­dling the ide­o­log­i­cal di­vides. He was loved and ad­mired by peo­ple such as Jus­tice Al­bie Sachs, for­merly of our Con­sti­tu­tional Court, and jour­nal­ist Terry Bell, who is no longer a wel­come fig­ure in some po­lit­i­cal cir­cles in this coun­try.

Af­ter he died, trib­utes poured in – from his child­hood friends, in­clud­ing Arthur Mager­man, and from more re­cent friends such as Mathatha Tsedu, who met him af­ter he had been in ex­ile for years.

I got to know Lionel when the apartheid gov­ern­ment fi­nally re­lented and al­lowed me to travel abroad. I was sent by the Me­dia Work­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of SA to a trade union con­fer­ence and Lionel im­me­di­ately took me un­der his wing. He and his fam­ily – his wife Liz, and sons Sipho and Du­misa – threw open their doors in Lon­don and they chap­er­oned me around the city.

A few months later, they did the same for my fam­ily as we stopped in Lon­don for a few days on our way to Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, on a Nie­man Fel­low­ship at Har­vard Univer­sity.

This gen­eros­ity is what I re­mem­ber most about Lionel and his fam­ily.

As we got to know each other, I dis­cov­ered that he had worked for the Jim Bai­ley pub­li­ca­tions, the Golden City Post and Drum, which I also worked for af­ter he had gone into ex­ile. I found out that he was the youngest ac­cused in the 1966 Trea­son Trial. I also dis­cov­ered that he had tran­si­tioned from the SA Coloured Peo­ple’s Or­gan­i­sa­tion to the ANC in ex­ile, and then be­came a Pan African­ist Congress rep­re­sen­ta­tive in China.

When he was in China, he founded and ran the Afro-Asian Jour­nal­ists’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which had mem­bers in Ghana, In­done­sia, China and Zam­bia.

He be­came the first black pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists in Bri­tain and was among the first three black jour­nal­ists in Fleet Street. And, for a long time, he was head of its back cau­cus and fought for a place for black jour­nal­ists in Bri­tain.

He also taught jour­nal­ism at a num­ber of col­leges in Lon­don and I was priv­i­leged to at­tend some of his lec­tures. He was a born teacher.

It was in these ca­pac­i­ties that he per­suaded the Na­tional Union of Jour­nal­ists, the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists and In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Trade Unions to adopt the Me­dia Work­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of SA as their spe­cial project.

Lionel was awarded the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire for his ser­vices to jour­nal­ism, and for­mer pres­i­dent Kgalema Mot­lanthe awarded him with the Or­der of Ikhamanga in sil­ver “for ex­cel­lent achieve­ment in jour­nal­ism and con­tribut­ing to the ideals of a just and demo­cratic South Africa”.

Lionel and his wife, Liz, were a per­fect match. She was a so­cial worker, help­ing the marginalised, and he worked in the Bri­tish Com­mis­sion for Racial Equal­ity.

Lionel truly was a cit­i­zen of the world. His pass­ing leaves a huge gap that, hope­fully,

oth­ers will fill. Joe Thloloe is di­rec­tor in the Press Coun­cil

Lionel Mor­ri­son and the book his fam­ily com­piled for his 80th birth­day

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