Louw, Joseph

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Joseph Louw (1939-2004) was a journalist, documentary filmmaker and television producer.


Joseph Louw was born in Kimberley on 4 August 1939 and attended St. Boniface High School in Galeshewe. After matriculating he left for Johannesburg and became a journalist with the Golden City Post and Drum magazine. As a Coloured man, he was subject to all the apartheid laws and when, in November 1961, he and a white typist, Pamela Beira, were caught together in a friend’s flat in Hillbrow, both were charged under the notorious Immorality Act. She fled into exile and in April 1962 he jumped bail. Initially he worked on East Africa’s Daily Nation newspaper, based in Dar es Salaam, but in 1963 he was awarded a scholarship at Columbia University in New York. He majored in economics and then obtained an MA in journalism, specialising in television production and photography.

In 1968 he was travelling with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., working on a documentary for the Public Broadcast Laboratory of NET. When, on 4 April 1968, the civil rights leader was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, Louw happened to be there and the dramatic photographs he took at the time were used all over the world. He also covered Dr. King’s funeral for Life Magazine. On the film Free at Last: Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968) he was credited as associate producer and for his still photographs. The following year he wrote and produced Mexican Americans: the Invisible Minority, again for NET. During this time he also seems to have worked on the sound for Michael Wadleigh’s famous Woodstock documentary.

He accepted an offer from the United Nations to make a documentary on Nairobi and in 1970 he settled there. He did freelance work for various American and European media houses, as well as on documentaries on independent churches in Africa. Amongst these were John Ankele’s Rise Up and Walk: the Life and Witness of the African Indigenous Churches (1981), African Voices (1986) for the Mennonite Central Committee, as well as a documentary on Mother Teresa. In 1987 he was a consultant in the Broadcasting Training Department of the proposed Zimbabwe Institute of Mass Communication. Working with journalist/historian Hilary N’gweno, he was also involved in establishing television production houses in Nairobi. In the early 1990s he returned from exile and joined the Saturday Star as investigative reporter and senior features writer. After that followed a stint with the SABC, working on Agenda and eventually becoming head of News Africa in 1999. Becoming frustrated with board meetings instead of working on real issues, he bought an undeveloped piece of land near Orange Farm and turned to commercial farming. He died in July 2007 of colon cancer at the early age of 64.

(Trivia: Pamela Beira married the Mozambican poet, revolutionary and politician Marcelino dos Santos. She was actively involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, worked fulltime for FRELIMO and became Eduardo Mondlane’s confidential secretary)


Sowetan, 9 July 2004

Sunday Times, 11 July 2004


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