A tribute to Johan Neethling

A tribute to Johan Neethling

It is with great sadness that I write to share the news of the untimely passing of Jo Neethling from SABC Education, who passed away over the weekend from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident.

Jo was the Commissioning Editor at SABC Education under whose guidance JHHESA worked. Patrick Coleman and Jo collaborated on the development of the popular SABC drama series TshaTsha, this was followed by Masupatsela and more recently Intersexions. It seems to me that what ever the Coleman/Neethling/Gavshon/Makhetha collaboration touched turned to gold. All three series would go onto become award winning series not only in South Africa but also internationally. Jo took chances, where few would have taken chances in the SABC, his job was to convince the powers that be in the SABC that the issues that we were dealing with and their representation in the drama series were necessary, and based on evidence. At the same time he had a remarkable ability to diffuse the flames of passionate argument between the entertainment experts, the educational experts and the corporate objectives of the SABC. Often he would sit silently, observing the passionate debates and then finding the middle ground.

As Patrick Coleman wrote in an email to me yesterday. "During the 12 plus years that we worked together we developed a friendship that transcended the often difficult working relationship we enjoyed. You see, I am a brash, egotistical know-all American and Jo learned to deal with me to keep me calm, centered and to draw the best from both of our different corporate sides and world views. As time went on in our friendship we managed to delve into the important parts of our lives: our family, our sons and go beyond the world of work".

But Jo's commitment did not stop at just the drama series. Jo was a passionate supporter of transforming gender norms and values and believed passionately in Brothers for Life as a vehicle to do that. Jo brokered the deal with SABC Radio that saw the Brothers for Life radio talk show broadcast, the first talk show ever on SABC radio to highlight issues relating to Men's Health. He took a passionate interest in the Brothers for Life Man of the Year Award that honored ordinary men from all corners of our country who displayed the values and contributed towards building a healthier and safer South Africa.

Jo worked tirelessly to ensure that the issues addressed in the USAID/JHU HIV Communication Programme were integrated into the other platforms of the SABC, such as the television talk show Shift, the SABC's emerging famers weekly television programme. He recognized the need to amplify the issues that were being addressed through the USAID/JHU HIV Communication Programme had to be integrated so as to contribute towards the development of the nation.

On a personal level I say farewell to a friend, a confidante, a person from who I learnt so much over the past six years that I had the pleasure to work with. If there is one thing I will always remember about Jo is his endearing smile, his laughter and his sense of humor and always his commitment to excellence. He pushed us, and together we were able to make and tell compelling stories, build characters that made South Africans laugh, cry and rage at. His legacy lies in the work that will always serve as a testimony to who he was.

Today we say Hamba Kahle to a friend, a colleague and the ultimate Brother for Life....Jo Neethling.

Tribute from Matchboxology:

Deepest condolences from Matchboxology to the JHHESA and SABC families as well as to Jo's family. We at Matchboxology didn't get the privilege to work with Jo much, but enjoyed his company at several of your partner's meetings. He struck us as one of the really good guys in the world--committed, full of integrity, and passionate about his life and his job. Certainly a real diamond in the minefield of the television world.

I know those of you who worked closely with him are grieving deeply at this completely sudden loss. Our hearts and prayers go out to you, our friends.
Cal, Jason, Paris and the Team.

Tribute from CADRE:

Helen Hajiyiannis, Acting Director at CADRE: It is with great sadness that we at CADRE learned of Jo's passing. On behalf of CADRE staff and board members, I would like to express our deepest condolences to Jo's wife and family and to all those he loved and with whom he worked. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

I met Jo over 11 years ago, when I started working at CADRE. Over the years, we worked closely together on many television series and several radio talk shows. In all the time I knew Jo, he was the same gentle man that I first met, who inevitably always had me laughing. Always chasing a dream to develop the best of the best for South African audiences and who would listen with interest and joy, when he heard research accounts of how an episode or a scene on television, had touched viewers, led to change or had touched someone's life in a meaningful way.

Jo's passion for his work and for what he believed in, is how I will always remember him. He made a significant contribution to educational television and the CADRE team and I, were privileged to work with him and learn from him. Rest in peace Jo.

Warren Parker, former CADRE Director: I met Jo during the early days of Tsha Tsha, in the midst of the intense balancing of ideas and practicalities that make television series a reality. Jo was quiet, but astute, and made points at exactly the right time to keep us all on track. He was energetic and committed and above all, insightful. And as part of a planning week at a secluded nature reserve in the Eastern Cape, we had time to take to the hills on mountain bikes. One of these rides included coming back pale and shaky after a wildebeest had run at full speed through the narrow gap between the bikes, missing us by milliseconds. The last time I saw Jo was by coincidence, at a filling station in Mpumalanga. He was on a 'breakfast run', and in good spirits from the fun of being away from the city and out in the wind. It was good to catch up and it's sad to know the world is less without him.

Kevin Kelly Form CADRE Director: Jo was a 'genuine', a real mensch, with no airs about him; and yet who commanded respect. He had a lovely quiet, inoffensive and gentle presence.

Nazli Jugbaran, former CADRE staff member: I always remember him as being very jovial and friendly, and I remember thinking that it was great that he was unassuming but obviously embraced a little bit of the wild side.