George John obituary | South Africa

My friend and comrade George Johannes, who has died aged 77, was an African National Congress cadre who served for a time in its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He was also a member of the South African Communist Party and, following the end of apartheid, a diplomat.

George was born in Cape Town, the second youngest of eight children. His mother, Maria (nee Leisering), worked as a cook for local priests and played an important role in the community of Cape Flats, helping to deliver babies, taking in children and laying out the dead. His father, David, was often away from home as a railway worker and traveling musician.

George attended St Columba’s Roman Catholic primary school, and then enrolled himself at Trafalgar high school, which was known for its politically active teachers and students.

In 1969 he left for Ireland, where his parents hoped he would train for the priesthood. In fact he studied philosophy and history at the University of Cork, graduating in 1973 before returning to Africa, where he formally joined the ANC in 1976 and, around the same time, underwent military training with Umkhonto we Sizwe, for whom he worked on intelligence and security under the assumed name of Joe Louw.

Later he served the ANC across southern Africa in various roles, including as a journalist for Radio Freedom in Angola and then as secretary for the ANC’s department of information and publicity in Zambia, before being posted to London in the early 1980s.

In the UK, among other things, George traveled across the country for the ANC, speaking at political events. Following the end of apartheid in 1994 he went back to South Africa to join Nelson Mandela’s Department of Labor as director of international relations, before returning to London four years later to be deputy high commissioner at the South African high commission.

He again returned to South Africa in 2005, this time to work at the Department of Foreign Affairs as the director responsible for UK, Ireland and the Benelux countries. In 2007 he became deputy ambassador to Germany, and two years later was appointed ambassador to Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Vatican. Later a separate South African mission was created to the Vatican, and George became its first ambassador in Rome.

His archive, the George Johannes Collection, is held at Glasgow Caledonian University.

George is survived by his third wife, Banu (nee Altikulacoglua), their son, Liam, another son, Joseph, from an earlier relationship with Deborah Gibberd, two children, Charlotte and Daniel, from his second marriage, to Jan Clements, which ended in divorce in 2007, two grandchildren and his siblings Arthur and Veronica.

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