The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives, and leading journalists for press freedom, mourns the death of Tony Heard, a respected South African journalist and vocal media freedom champion who went on to advise Nelson Mandela’s post-apartheid government. Heard passed away on March 27, after a short illness. He was 86.

A long-time, active member of IPI and Honorary Life Member since 2010, Heard served on the host committee of the historic 1994 IPI World Congress and General Assembly in Cape Town. He was instrumental in securing the participation as speakers of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, among others, just a few months before South Africa’s first free and democratic elections.

Heard began his career in journalism influenced by his family’s strong ties to the profession. His father, George Heard, was a well-known anti-fascist and liberal political journalist who enlisted in the war against Nazi Germany as a naval sea officer in 1942 and vanished mysteriously in 1945. His mother, Vida, also a trailblazing journalist, was left to raise Tony and his brother Raymond with both following in their parents’ journalistic footsteps.

Heard earned a Bachelor of Arts followed by an Honours in Philosophy from the University of Cape Town. He rose through the ranks at the Cape Times, from cub reporter in 1955, parliamentary reporter in 1958, leader-page editor in 1967, to its acclaimed editor from 1971 to 1987. Apart from a brief stint as Cape editor of the Financial Mail and senior correspondent in the SA Morning Newspapers Group office in London in 1966, he worked at the Cape Times until his dismissal in 1987.

Heard’s courageous coverage of key events, such as the historic anti-pass Langa march in 1960, helped shed light on the injustices of apartheid South Africa. His bravery and journalistic integrity were further demonstrated by his controversial interview with banned ANC leader Oliver Tambo in 1985. This article led to Heard being arrested under apartheid security laws, with charges later dropped and the newspaper fined. Heard was then controversially dismissed as editor in 1987. Despite this setback, his commitment to journalism and press freedom never faltered.

As a freelance journalist and internationally syndicated columnist, Heard continued to advocate for a free and democratic South Africa. When Nelson Mandela became president of the new, democratic South Africa, he became an adviser in the presidency, serving until 2010.

Heard received several awards for promoting and defending press freedom, among them the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers’ Golden Pen of Freedom in 1986 after his interview with Oliver Tambo. He was awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University in 1988.

He authored three books, including “Cape of Storms: A Personal History of the Crisis in South Africa” and “8000 Days: Mandela, Mbeki and beyond — The inside story of an editor in the corridors of power.” Shortly before his death, Heard completed his final draft of “Cost of Courage,” about his family’s lifetime search for answers to the mysterious disappearance of George Heard in 1945.

Tony Heard’s commitment to the principles of journalism and his dedication to press freedom will be deeply missed.


Anton Harber, executive director of the Campaign for Free Expression and founder-editor of The Weekly Mail/Mail & Guardian wrote in his obituary for News24 “Heard will be remembered for many things, but mostly as a journalist’s journalist, an editor who rose to meet the challenge of difficult times, an editorial light in a time of darkness.”

Tony Weaver, freelance photojournalist, environment writer, columnist and editor wrote in a very personal obituary in the Daily Maverick about his former editor at the Cape Times: “His quiet and fearless opposition to the apartheid regime brought him many accolades, and cost him his job. He was a journalist’s journalist, a man for whom principles counted above all else.”

A message put out by his family read: “Tony was a fiercely independent thinker who has left an indelible footprint in journalism and beyond, with a lifelong commitment to non-racialism, media freedom and social justice. As a family, we mourn his passing and we thank him for his courage, his unwavering love, kindness, idealism and unique storytelling. He has caught his final wave, may he rest in peace.”