‘One of the deepest joys of being human is reading. That is why it is crucial that the right to education be enjoyed by every single person. Nothing fuels inequality so viciously as unequal access to education including the injustice of not having an opportunity to learn to read AND to have access to affordable and good, relevant reading materials.’ – Eusebius McKaiser 

Broadcaster and author, Joanne Joseph speech at the memorial of her friend and colleague, the renowned late political analyst, broadcaster and author, Eusebius McKaiser, in recognition of the contribution he made to the book community.

When I was asked to speak about our shared love for books, what immediately came to mind were those many posts – Eusebius at his favourite haunts with a foamy cappuccino in hand, the sun streaming over the pages of a book he was poring over. Those posts became important to us. They were not merely an indulgent peek into Eusebius’s lifestyle. They were an invitation to explore his inner literary world, bursting with the ideas of writers whose words and thoughts he dived into, analysed, digested and critiqued.

For authors whose works were featured and often deeply appreciated in those posts, it was an opportunity at an unexpected, generous endorsement that you knew would drive readers to the bookstores and the libraries to read your works. So many of us are deeply grateful that our books were among those that made it into his hands because we knew he’d treated them with the same love and care with which we’d written them. At times, it pained him to write less complimentary reviews, because he was reluctant to be ungenerous towards other writers. But he was a firm believer that writers ought to be held to a high standard and the public deserved quality reading material.

His social media posts and podcasts were also a call for his followers to be deliberate about the act of reading. We were both equally surprised at how often we’d hear people say ‘I have no time to read’ when what they meant to say was that because time was short, they had simply not prioritised the activity of reading over other pursuits. Eusebius’s posts firstly spoke about the joy of reading, and the infinite pleasure that books gave him. But those posts were also a call to action, exhorting his social media followers to intentionally set time aside to read as a means to expand their world view. For him, learning did not end at university – reading was a consistent part of his daily regime – in the way he exercised his body, he constantly exercised his mind. He was trying to convey that not to read is a dangerous thing, especially in a country where people in positions of power regularly use words to mislead, to misrepresent, to confuse, to detract from the truth and more than ever, to sow hatred and division.

One of the most enjoyable projects I ever did with Eusebius was an online show called Cover to Cover which we co-presented between 2020 and 2021. Our main intention was to have fun with books and authors and just inculcate a culture of reading in the nation, that cohered with the hashtags he often used: #ForTheLoveofReading / ForTheLoveofBooks. Again, Eusebius was highly intentional about his approach to the show. As early as the second episode, we focused on children’s literature. I’ll never forget the pics of him, propped on a large cushion on the bookstore floor, having a heart-to-heart with young readers about the books they loved. For him, reading was the gateway for children to access the world of education, subsequently work, and then the quality of life they deserved in this place of inequality and poverty. It was the point at which his love for words and their tools as levers of social justice coalesced. He once wrote in one of his posts: ‘One of the deepest joys of being human is reading. That is why it is crucial that the right to education be enjoyed by every single person. Nothing fuels inequality so viciously as unequal access to education including the injustice of not having an opportunity to learn to read AND to have access to affordable and good, relevant reading materials.’

On Cover to Cover, he was similarly intentional about his guests. He began the show with three powerful black women writers telling stories of home. He was concerned that when one walked into a bookstore, it was first the international writers whose works you’d encounter while local writers would constantly play second fiddle. Eusebius wanted to change that mindset in the publishing and book retail industry. He longed for us as Africans to find our stories, to take pride in them, to write and read them so we could develop a greater sense of self and our history. He wanted us to break our prejudices by penetrating the lives of the marginalised through these encounters.

He was also a broad reader of multiple genres who could not be limited. On that show, he also interviewed African American young adult writers and the Irish winner of the Booker. He explored Afrikaaps poetry alongside local politics and playwrighting, producing a smorgasbord for the reader out there because he understood that the world is huge place that is home to a multitude of stories of humanity and we have a duty to bear witness to the stories of all communities around us, to their suffering and their triumphs as captured in the written word. This was the subject of many of our late-night conversations as mutual insomniacs: how in this short length of time we spend on this earth, we absorb all the storytelling we can from sources close to us and those whose lives we will never encounter personally except through a book. He loved the kaleidoscope of possibility that existed in that – that one could sit here, on the tail end of Africa and yet travel so far into the mysterious lives of others continents away, experience their geographies and relationships and dilemmas, and glean some sense of how all of humanity is connected, how our strivings and difficulties are essentially the same although they may take different forms. Though we had the same interests, we didn’t always read the same books. He would offer me a detailed synopsis of whatever race theory book he was reading at the time. I would give him a rundown of the latest historical fiction novel on my bedside table. So, we joked, our short voice notes first grew into podcasts, and later, into audiobooks.

I’m profoundly sorry that he never got to produce the next book he was thinking about. We are fortunate that, as an author, he produced three books on racism and politics that are still widely available, and his free form writing abounds everywhere on social media while his commentary continues to live on news sites and endures in the form of his podcasts. His words have guaranteed his immortality.   

Yet we grapple with the reality that one of our greatest book exponents has now left us, although his call to action remains. What does this mean to you? Does it mean you will leave this place today and pick up a book after a long time? Does it mean that for a time, you will put aside the escapist reading to pick up a different book – that ‘heavy’ literature that you’ve been avoiding, to find a window into the lives of people around you whose suffering has thus far been invisible to you, and that you will take a moment to acknowledge that? Does it mean you will read your child a bedtime story tonight, or support a literacy organisation that will grow the reading skills of other children, many of whom cannot read with understanding in our country? Does it mean that as an aspiring writer who has never thought your story worthy, you will finally put pen to paper today? Whatever it is, I ask us all here to do something substantial for the cause of literacy in memory of Eusebius.

Eusebius, go well. You accomplished so much in the short space of 44-years. We no longer have you. But we still have your words and we will still find the essence of you in them. Now rest in brilliance. We will always love you.