Shaun Johnson. Picture: AMBROSE PETERS
Shaun Johnson. Picture: AMBROSE PETERS

Renowned journalist and founding executive director of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation (MRF), Shaun Johnson, has died.

The foundation said on Tuesday that he died of “natural causes” in Cape Town at the age of 60. It described him as its leading light, and a person of “tremendous vision, energy, wit, humility, humour and compassion”.

Johnson, who played a key role in reporting on SA’s transition from apartheid to democracy, was the MRF’s founding executive director from 2003 to 2019. He also served as the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s CEO in 2006. In 2007, his novel The Native Commissioner won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best book in Africa.

Johnson, who was recognised as a distinguished Rhodes scholar, served as chair of the Rhodes Scholarship for Southern Africa advisory committee.

He was also a long-serving member of Independent News and  Media’s International Advisory Board, the chair of the Cape Town Partnership, and a trustee of various charitable organisations.     

The MRF described Jonson as a visionary leader who was invigorated by Nelson Mandela’s vision of changing Africa through its young.

“Shaun made a great contribution to the realisation of the more humane world that Madiba dreamt of,” the MRF said. “He will be missed by all members of the Mandela Rhodes family: staff, trustees, supporters and, of course, his beloved scholars.”

MRF CEO Judy Sikuza said what Johnson had built in Mandela’s name and for the benefit of Africans will “reverberate through the ages ... But beyond that, it was his generosity of spirit, humanity and genuine faith in creating a better world through our scholars that will remain in our hearts. Thank you for your love and belief in us as Mandela Rhodes scholars, and specifically for your personal guidance and mentorship to me during the many years we worked together”.

The foundation said Johnson will be laid to rest during a private ceremony to be held by his family. He leaves behind his wife Stefania Johnson and daughter Luna Johnson.

A public memorial service will also be held, “details of which will be announced in due course”.