COSATU mourns the passing of Tony Heard, a lifelong champion of a free press and a democratic South Africa

28 March 2024

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) mourns the passing of Tony Heard, a lifelong champion of a free press and a democratic South Africa. 

We offer the Heard family, our sympathies and best wishes during this difficult period.  They should rest assured that Tony more than earned his space amongst the pantheon of progressive South African journalists who fearlessly reported on and exposed the horrific abuses of the apartheid.  He has left a rich legacy and South Africa is better for it.

Tony made his mark in journalism over many decades.  He was part of a generation of largely White journalists who bucked the censorship of the newsroom imposed by editors and publishers and enforced by the apartheid regime.  This defiance saw many journalists, including Tony, detained, harassed, threatened, exiled and some assassinated by regime intolerant of dissent of any type.

The career of Mr. Heard was intertwined with South Africa’s liberation struggle.  He saw it first hand and played an important role in providing a fair and unbiased platform for the voices of the dispossessed and oppressed to be heard across South Africa and the world. 

This journey included such historic moments as the March 30 1960 anti-pass march where thousands of ordinary residents from Langa and across the Cape Flats marched to Cape Town.  Tony’s part of this historic moment of defiance did not end with simply covering this moment but later to support the renaming of part of the N2 after the leader of this march, Phillip Kgosana, in 2017.

He was a supportive editor, providing protection and encouragement to journalists at the Cape Times at the height of police brutality and ensuring that such tragedies as the assassination of the Gugulethu 7, the battle of Belgravia Road, the Trojan Horse massacre and the vigilante killings in Crossroads by the Witdoeke were exposed to the nation and world.

Tony did not simply expect other journalists to expose themselves to great risks and take none himself.  When the media was under severe censorship from the state and the African National Congress had been banned for 25 years, Tony dedicated a full-page op ed to letting Oliver Tambo, the then President of the ANC to speak and address the nation.  In these dark times, this was a bold act of defiance and an important moment in allowing millions of South Africans to not only hear from the ANC but to envision a non-racial, non-sexist democratic South Africa.  His bold act resulted in his dismissal by publishers now wanting to offend the apartheid regime.  To his credit, when Tony was offered a generous package to disappear quietly, he refused.

Mr. Heard was not just an editor and a journalist.  He wanted to continue to make a contribution to the nation after his career as a journalist came to an end.  Post-1994 saw him playing an important role in government as an advisor to President Thabo Mbeki and the late Minister Kader Asmal amongst others.

The Heard family epitomises the values Tony stood for with three generations of progressive journalists, from his father George, to his daughter Janet.  George played an important role in fearlessly exposing the National Party in the early days of apartheid and the Ossewabrandwag, who openly demanded South Africa join World War Two on the side of the Nazi regime in Germany.  George tragically disappeared in 1945 under circumstances that have never been resolved.

Tony’s was a life well lived.  He symbolised the best of a generation of journalists who say themselves not only in exposing the worst forms of abuse under apartheid but also in articulating what should a democratic South Africa look like.  He did not shirk when things were tough.  He persevered and nourished generations of journalists.  The nation is indebted for this humble warrior’s contributions.

Rest in peace comrade Tony.  Hamba kahle qabane.

 Issued by COSATU 

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks
Acting National Spokesperson & Parliamentary Coordinator 
Cell: 082 785 0687