Obituary: Farewell to Mr Ethics

Zwelakhe Sisulu (1951-2012)

The 61-year-old was the son of Walter and Albertina Sisulu and had a long career in the media industry. He was the brother of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu.

He started his career as a trainee journalist at the now defunct Rand Daily Mail in 1975. Success followed and he became news editor of the Sunday Post in 1980. Six years later he started the alternative newspaper New Nation, which he edited until he moved to the SABC as its chief executive in 1994, a position he held until 1997. At the time of his death he was the director of Eastern Platinum Limited and chaired Savannah Resources and Dirleton Minerals and Energy.

Colleagues from his days in the media industry have reacted with shock and sorrow to his passing and their main sentiment was that he had been an uncompromising journalist who worked to the highest ethical standards.

Allister Sparks was his editor when Sisulu started out in journalism at the Rand Daily Mail. "He was an excellent reporter – the best black journalist at that time – and he really energised everyone around him because he was easy, congenial and creative," he said.

Sisulu asked Sparks to work for him when he took over at the SABC and ushered it into what many have called its best era as a proper public broadcaster. "He was the only qualified chief executive that the corporation has had," Sparks said. "He put a proud spring under everyone and he made sure we had no interference from government. He shielded us from all the attempts that they did make."

But this took its toll. "He took a terrible physical and mental strain from all of this, from which I don't think he ever recovered," said Sparks.

Max du Preez, former editor of the Vrye Weekblad, said: "The best thing you can say about him is that he is a Sisulu, which is a very nice thing to say about someone."

Both were part of the 1980s alternative newspapers movement and Du Preez said Sisulu was committed to fearless and truthful journalism. "He knew what he was fighting for and he was willing to go to jail for it."  

When Sisulu went to the SABC, Du Preez said he had to follow. "What he did was make it what a public broadcaster should be. He made it a place where people were proud to work and he inspired the very best out of them."

President Jacob Zuma said Sisulu "left an indelible mark on both the struggle for liberation and the reconstruction of our country after 1994. He leaves a legacy of selfless service, humility, patriotism and dedication to this country and its people."


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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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