Danny Schechter, renowned American journalist, author and documentary filmmaker, popularly referred to as the ‘News Dissector’ and known for his work documenting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement since the 1960s, died in New York yesterday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Below is a tribute from film producer, Anant Singh who was a close friend and collaborator on many documentaries, including six on Nelson Mandela.
It is with deep sadness that we learnt of the passing of Danny Schechter. Danny was a remarkable individual and human being, who was a very close friend for the past 40 years. His passion for journalism was unsurpassed and more importantly is that he was a true journalist in every sense – never compromising the story and always maintaining values of integrity and honesty, which are almost non-existent today.
Having started his career in the big media companies of ABC, CNN in New York, he was always remained diligent, hard-working and friendly to all. He was the founder of Globalvision Inc. and Executive Director of MediaChannel.org, the world’s largest online independent media network and the recipient of many awards, including 4 Emmy awards and the Society of Professional Journalists 2001 Award for Excellence in Documentary Journalism.
Our friendship started when I met him in New York in the early 1980’s, just before I produced my first anti-apartheid movie. Danny’s ties with South Africa began when he met Ruth First at the London School of Economics and was immediately mesmerised by the South African struggle for freedom and he immediately became one of the first London Recruits of the ANC, and came to South Africa for the first time in 1967, attending the funeral of Chief Albert Luthuli.
He played such an important role “in informing America about apartheid and South African’s harsh laws”. He did this through his writings, through his films and through the many campaigns that he led. He created ‘South Africa Now’ and it became the voice against the system of apartheid on American television and was aired on Public Broadcasting Service. He also led the initiative against Artists performing at Sun City.
‘South Africa Now’ ran for several years in the United States and was the only television series that had the voice of the South African people and the liberation movement there. It also played in about 40 countries internationally and was a huge tool to bring awareness to the anti-apartheid movement and the work of the ANC in exile.
We did many films together, starting with MANDELA IN AMERICA, as well as six documentaries on Madiba and several other struggle heroes. Most recently I brought Danny for South Africa to be with us for the entire shoot of MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. He was the Behind the Scenes Director putting together the documentary that became BEYOND LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.
There are so many stories, so many memories that create more sadness when we think about these; especially as he had a steadfast commitment to people and humanitarian causes around the world.
I have fond memories of being with Danny in many places. I remember sitting with Danny at the Church of Saint John in New York City where Madiba was being honoured, and as Madiba left, he walked by, greeted me and then turned and said “Danny do you remember me” and everyone around us laughed. We memorable had moments at Madiba’s inauguration where we met Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, most of the American delegation and others. He was popular with almost all of the anti-apartheid activists in exile and those who remained in South Africa, all of whom he knew well and developed lasting friendships. He was so proud of the important role he played in our liberation, yet remained modest about it.
His illness over the past six months, really had him perplexed, first it was the discovery of the pancreatic cancer and then trying to come to terms with it. He had the best care in New York and over the past three months, I was fortunate to see him three times and he was always in high spirits. Most recently he joined me for a screening in New York on the 4th of March, and I spoke to him this past Sunday and I am still in shock on the news of his passing.
Until the very end, he remained diligently committed to his career and on the 4th of March, he gave me a copy of his latest book, WHEN SOUTH AFRICA CALLED WE ANSWERED. It is in many ways his autobiography and I’m so glad that he wrote this book. He also gave me a copy of a CD that he compiled, celebrating the music that inspired him through his career. Both of these are memorable tributes to an exceptional human being, personal friend and a giant who single handedly did more for us than most who had vast resources could. Unfortunately he did not get the recognition that he deserved. There are probably only a handful of human beings who made selfless commitment to causes they believe in, and Danny was one of them.
The closing lines of his book, WHEN SOUTH AFRICA CALLED, WE ANSWERED says:
- “The struggle for freedom in South Africa also made us all better people and world citizens as well as members of a community of change who learned from the solidarity that this work inspired.
- It gave us all a sense that activists from many lands and traditions can work together in a spirit of internationalism for social justice.
- Those who fought against apartheid then having to keep fighting against its reincarnations.
- I was against apartheid then – and I still am!
- Yet the struggle did show that “the people” can win – at least for a while. South Africa today is no utopia, but it sure as hell is better than what it was.
- And, it didn’t change all by itself.”
A quote from his 90 year old father “that his generation had failed to create a ‘better world’ will the same be said of mine….” Probably yes, but Danny has done his father proud and has done so much more than we can expect from any one person. He has made us and his father proud.
We have so many memories with my family with him, he befriended people young and old, and of all colours, charming them with his humility, integrity and honesty, qualities which he will always be remembered for.
On behalf of my family and the Videovision Entertainment team, our heartfelt condolences go out to his daughter Sarah who he was so proud of, and to his extended family and friends around the world.
Viva Danny ! Viva !
Hamba kahle Danny !
WE WILL MISS YOU…