Eusebius McKaiser, a South African writer and broadcaster who focused a sharp and often unsettling gaze on his nation’s struggles with apartheid’s legacy in race, politics, sexual violence and identity, died on Tuesday in Johannesburg. He was 44.
The cause was thought to be an epileptic seizure, according to his manager, Jackie Strydom. His associates said he had shown no symptoms of illness immediately before his death and had been working as usual.
This week, Mr. McKaiser completed a podcast excoriating the dominant African National Congress of President Cyril Ramaphosa and bemoaning the inability of the opposition to offer South Africans a viable electoral alternative.
He enjoined his listeners to blame the A.N.C. for the country’s crumbling national electricity grid, which for years has operated with hours of rolling blackouts across the land.
“The effects of blackouts aren’t random, natural events,” he said. “They are foreseeable consequences of corruption, state capture, technocratic ineptitude and unethical and ineffectual leadership by the A.N.C.-misled government.”
In a continent where a growing tally of governments embrace homophobic policies and practices, Mr. McKaiser, who was openly gay, was a fierce defender of the same-sex rights enshrined in South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution. In an article in Britain’s The Guardian in 2012, he wrote that “it is homophobia, rather than homosexuality, that is ultimately an embarrassment for Africa.”
As a leading public intellectual, he traced many of South Africa’s seemingly intractable social problems to the apartheid era, which came to a formal end with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first Black president in 1994. He shared those views with a broader Western audience, including in opinion articles in The New York Times.
Writing in 2012 about the rape of a 17-year-old woman by seven men, a crime that was captured on cellphone video and outraged the nation, he said: “The incident elicited an outcry because rape, and more generally sexual violence against women and children, is all too familiar to South Africans. It’s a live scar from apartheid.”
Mr. McKaiser tackled other social issues, notably the persistence of racist views, which he ascribed to the violence of the apartheid era, when racial distinctions were written into a body of white-drafted law that drew rigid lines across society from cradle to grave, from places of residence to places of worship and burial.
His views were often divisive, particularly in a country where radio talk shows yield much of the grist of political discourse.
“I can’t think of another broadcaster who had such an impact, who has been able to generate such intense emotions,” said Stephen Grootes, a fellow broadcaster and journalist. “So many people hated him. So many people loved him.”
Moshoeshoe Monare, the executive for news at South Africa’s public broadcaster, SABC, told Daily Maverick, an online news outlet, that Mr. McKaiser had contributed to SABC’s “mission to reflect the diversity of opinions and our culture of openly debating our differences.”
“We will remember his courage to express unpopular views,” he added.
In “Run, Racist, Run: Journeys into the Heart of Racism,” a book published in 2015, more than two decades into the post-apartheid era, Mr. McKaiser wrote that, as in the era of enforced racial separation, both Black and white people still tended to live segregated lives.
“Apartheid geography is as real as it has ever been,” he said. And perceptions about race, too, remained far apart, he said, joining a debate that became ever more tangled, touching on questions of enduring privilege, entitlement and resentment.
While “not all whites were or are perpetrators of anti-Black racism,” he said, “all whites benefited and still benefit from the history of anti-Black oppression.”
“Many whites are blind to racism’s continued presence,” he added, “and, related to this blindness, many whites rationalize their ignorance by thinking that Black people are race-obsessed.”
He did not exclude South Africa’s fabled literary landscape from criticism. “Go stalk the minority Black writers at most local festivals and you will see a microcosm of apartheid geography,” he wrote.
Eusebius McKaiser was born on March 28, 1979, in what was then called Grahamstown, South Africa. Because of the name’s colonial origins — the town’s founder, Lt. Col. John Graham, was a 19th-century British officer — it was renamed Makhanda in 2018.
His father, Donald McKaiser, had been a long-serving member of the South African military and ran a small construction company after he retired from the army. His mother, Magdalene (Stevens) McKaiser, died in 2006.
Mr. McKaiser is survived by his father; his partner, Nduduzo Nyanda; his sisters, Geniva and Marilyn McKaiser; and his stepmother, Valencia McKaiser. Her sons, Mr. McKaiser’s half brothers, died young: Timothy in early childhood, and Owen in 2017 at age 21.
Under apartheid law, the family was classified as colored, meaning of mixed race, a category that faced systemic discrimination but which enjoyed more rights than Black South Africans.
Mr. McKaiser studied at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, starting in 1997, earning a bachelor’s degree in law and philosophy, then a master’s in philosophy, before winning a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford in 2003. The scholarships were founded by the British arch-colonialist Cecil John Rhodes at his death in 1902.
Mr. McKaiser later backed the campaign to remove statues of Rhodes at the universities of Cape Town and Oxford, and called for a broader effort to change the institutional mind-set of such places of learning to remove all vestiges of colonialism.
“The point is simple, yet challenging: toppling the statues of racists is necessary but not sufficient to achieve an anti-racist society,” he wrote in The Guardian in 2020.
Mr. McKaiser was also known as a competitive debater.
He began his career as a radio broadcaster with a late-night talk show on Radio 702, a commercial station based in Johannesburg, and worked for other stations, including SABC3, a public television channel, and PowerFM, a talk radio station. In 2021, he launched a podcast called “In the Ring.”
He published several books on politics and race, including “A Bantu in My Bathroom,” “Could I vote DA: A Voter’s Dilemma” (DA refers to the opposition Democratic Alliance), and “Run, Racist Run.”
Reflecting his reputation as a mentor to young South Africans, several accounts of his life highlighted one of his final social media posts, inspired by Musa Motha, a 27-year-old South African amputee who had just reached the finals of a British talent show.
“Stop what you’re doing. Right now,” Mr. McKaiser wrote on Twitter shortly before his death. “You need to watch this. Wow. I am speechless and ran out of tears.”
“This,” he added, “is the inspiration you needed for this week.”
After a long career as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times based in Africa, the Middle East and Europe, Alan Cowell became a freelance contributor in 2015, based in London.
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