Eusebius Mckaiser’s life and times mourned and celebrated in the same breath

Mckaiser’s memorial service was attended by hundreds of people who filled up the Empire Conference Centre in Johannesburg yesterday.

BY Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Had it not been for the fact that the person involved is him, it would have appeared bizarre to be both celebrated and mourned at the same time.

But because this was a memorial service for popular broadcaster, combative commentator and well-read public intellectual Eusebius McKaiser, both these obviously contradictory sentiments were correct.

Hundreds of people, among whom were fans, colleagues in the public commentariat, journalists and family, witnessed what could have been a bizarre situation had it been that the ceremony was not about Mckaiser. But not him, with a sharp mind, brave public persona and combative style of handling especially bumbling and corrupt politicians. He was merciless on his platforms with the crooked and corrupt in the public service, but was a gift to ordinary South Africans demanding accountability from those in official positions of power.

Yesterday in the Empire Conference Centre in Parktown, Johannesburg, close friends and colleagues spoke in celebration of a sharp mind, an intellect and a highly philosophically grounded person who “lived his philosophy.”  However even as people spoke in celebration of his gifts of writing incisively and his talent as a confident and “arrogant’ show host, it was also obvious that the speakers and those in the room were also mourning his death. He simply died too young at 44, and was simply too talented to die “too early” when the country needed his wisdom and to feed from his deep knowledge and love for his country.

“He was an intellectual rock star, a philosopher King and irreplaceable,” said Makhudu Sefara, editor of Times Live. Mckaiser regularly wrote for the publication and the publishing company Arena Media, was his professional home at the time of his death. His popular podcast which dealt with a wide range of subjects, from politics, books and philosophy, his popular subject was housed there. It also perhaps befitting that his friend, another broadcast mind who, like Mckaiser gives the corrupt in the public sphere a hard time during interviews, Morning Live anchor Sakina Kamwendo was the programmes director of the memorial service proceedings .

“Often people in South Africa maintain that journalists should not have an agenda and therefore, must remain detached from what they write about. But I believe we should have one, especially in a country your skin colour sometimes determines where people sleep, eat and live. Maybe in the newsrooms of the countries of the West, they can speak and talk about not having an agenda and being unbiased,” veteran broadcaster Redi Thlabi said. “Eubie certainly had an agenda, an agenda to speak on behalf of the poor of this country,” she concluded. Like other speakers Thlabi fought tears as she explained that besides being colleagues, they were close friends who comforted each other when their work environments became toxic.

Well known political journalist Karyn Maughn who met the late journalist for the first time during their student days at Rhodes University in Makhanda where the late broadcaster hailed from, confessed that she was frightened to say something that could be stupid in his presence during their university time.

“He was one person who could comfortably talk about the big question of life with me, such as religion,” she said of Mckaiser of the current times.

Another person who spoke of the genesis of Mckaiser’s philosophical development is Rhodes University debating partner and friend Nick Ferreira, with whom he also attended the prestigious Oxford University as Rhodes scholars after their Rhodes time.

Former journalist and commentator Vukani Mde spoke of the first time when Mckaiser walked into the newsroom of Business Day in 2005, where he (Mde) and his late friend Karima Brown worked.

“At first I did not really like him as he was arrogant. But Karima kept on saying he was so intelligent as he used her office to write his column. But later we became friends with him. We formed a group known as the Doppio Group (named after the Greek restaurant chain at the Firs Mall in Rosebank where they regularly met). “We formed this Rosebank group in response to another group (of political commentators) known as the Midrand Group, where I think other commentators such as Prince Mashele, who is currently trending, were members. But ours, we  were not as organized as the Midrand Group,” Mde said.

Other speakers also shared the late broadcaster’s publicly lesser known side – that of caring about friends and friendship, as well as landing his mind and social capital to good causes. However not everything spoken during the memorial service was serious about the well-known commentator. There were also light moments “He was the greatest gossiper I ever known,” said Redi. 

It is also the same sentiment shared by his other social friends Zwelijongile Kwebityana and Bongani Khumalo whom they met through social media and became friends. The gossip trait, both Redi and his other two social friends emphasized, simply showed that he was human and vulnerable like any other person.

Well, he might have been that way to his friends, but to politicians, especially the crooked ones such as those prone to corruption, Mckaiser was a real pain in their political lives. Being a guest on his show left many a politician’s political career in doubt and their ego deflated, reduced to a spectacle of major proportions. He dealt harshly with crooked politicians from all political players in the country.  It was not easy, If ever, to win an on air argument with Mckaiser, as those who have been left bruised in their encounter with him, will attest to.

It is among these that might also be celebrating right now. But unlike the rest of the country in general and his close friends and associates in particular, the crooked are celebrating the demise of Mckaiser for their own selfish reasons. A pain for the powerful and crooked in local politics has been taken away by an epileptic attack.

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