A personal tribute to Ray Louw

Posted on June 17, 2019


The passing of “Oom Ray” has a particular poignancy for me. Because it was the actions of Ray Louw that ensured that I never spent more time in detention, prison — or worse — and made it into exile to return 27 years later, to meet up with him again.

For most of nearly two months in solitary confinement in 1964, I knew that a fellow journalist on the Rand Daily Mail (RDM) was a police spy. In days and nights in my cell and even during interrogation, I thought only of revenge; in minute detail I worked out what I should do if and when I was released.

I would return to the RDM newsroom, and Gerard Gunther Ludi, the spy, who had a desk near the door would be among the first to greet me. I would reveal him as a spy and initiate a scuffle that would end with me pitching him out of one of the third storey windows.

I was perhaps slightly unhinged at that stage, and I had no concerns about the consequences. But when I was released and entered the RDM newsroom, it was Ludi’s day off. And it was Ray Louw who took me aside when I demanded to know where Ludi was. Although I never told Ray what I intended doing, he persuaded me to sit down and write about interrogation, torture and general conditions in detention.

Several months later I left the RDM, planning to leave the country, illegally, for Zambia. En route, I went to say goodbye to political friends in the then Indian ghetto in Amersfoort, where I stumbled on a good human interest story which I posted to Ray. I heard nothing back and it was not published.

What I did not know at the time was that the security police wanted to know where I was. Had Ray made public that story (with pictures on a roll of film) I would almost certainly never have made it out of the country and friends would have been compromised. When I reminded him about the incident and thanked him for what he had done, he simply shrugged it off.

He was a fine man and a great journalist. I shall miss him. Hamba Kakuhle Oom Ray.

Posted in: Obituaries