Farewell

Ours was a decades-long friendship. If my memory serves me well, we first met at a conference in Essen, hosted by Prof. Dr Elmar Lehmann, who had established a wonderful Centre for Southern African Literary Studies. We kept in touch over the years and it was a pleasure to welcome him to the University of Zimbabwe as our External Examiner. Some colleagues, who were hesitant about casting aside the boycott of South African institutions, were won over by his charm. An inveterate traveller, I used to meet him at the railway station and take him to his hotel. One could never guarantee it would arrive on time, so one went hoping it might be so, as the Railway Office could not always tell when it was due! But he would be on it, smiling broadly, as he loved trains.

When I was at the University of Namibia, he telephoned me from Walvis Bay, I think, on his way back from St Helena! He informed me that the Academy in Windhoek was linked to RAU and he had been a Senate or Council Representative who periodically represented RAU at meetings in Windhoek.

When I moved to South Africa, we almost always had lunch together when I was in Gauteng. Over the Christmas holidays, he would drop me off at O.R. Tambo Airport, for the flight to Harare.

He loved Johannesburg and he showed me his city, including General Smuts’ amazing, modest home; Constitution Hill; the Market Theatre and numerous wonderful bookshops in and around the city. Many may have closed during lockdown. He loved his beautiful, sunny flat where we would have a cuppa before venturing forth.

In a profession not renowned for sharing information, he was a wonderfully generous man, who would point me to various sources and send me material he had come across, which he knew would be of interest to me. He was truly a fountain of wisdom and knowledge. I will miss our periodic phone calls and his jokes.

For a man who was educated in some of the best schools and institutions, here and abroad, perhaps his most striking characteristic was his down-to-earth personality, his remarkable gift of being able to relate so well with people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures. Farewell, dear friend.

Mbongeni Malaba