South Africa mourns for Hunter S Thompson of SA journalism: Barry Sergeant

By Jackie Cameron

Around the same time my electronic diary reminded me that it was investigative journalist Barry Sergeant’s birthday today, I heard the sad news that he had died. After having invasive surgery to remove cancer from his face a few years back, Barry retreated from the bowels of Africa’s murky underworld of dodgy business deals and organised crime to smell the roses amid the Free State’s natural beauty.

Barry Sergeant – Investigative journalist” They don’t make them like this anymore

We kept in touch via Facebook, with Barry mostly sharing pictures of birds and farm landscapes – a stark contrast to the type of information we shared daily when he was at his prime, digging up dirt on the rich and powerful.

Barry led the award-winning Moneyweb investigation into the Fidentia scandal, which involved a massive financial services company raiding funds allocated to widows and orphans. I worked on the investigation as one of his sidekicks. Barry focused on the big picture stories, the analysis, while I handled the crumbs, following up on leads contained in nuggets of information leaked by our very own “Deep Throat”.

He was protective over his beat, single-minded and unstoppable when he was sinking his teeth into evil-doers and liked to publish the story ahead of everyone else. Barry didn’t fall for charm or flattery to ease any tension: not even talk about his winkle pickers and a wide-brimmed hat that begged for attention would melt the ice. Well, if it did, he didn’t let on.

Barry was wonderful to watch: a rare and truly magnificent investigator. A journalist who genuinely put his calling first and didn’t compromise on ethics to meet commercial imperatives. At times it felt like being on the set of the Watergate-inspired All the President’s Men, such were the stakes and techniques in the news stories Barry pieced together.

He was also generous with advice to others who aspired to his great journalistic achievements and creative writing style. These ranged from many exposés of illegal and immoral business transactions to books documenting major events – including The Assault on the Rand, Brett Kebble The Inside Story and The Kebble Collusion.

I can’t think of a single colleague who didn’t benefit from being in Barry Sergeant’s company. It was great fun working with him and being his Facebook friend – he is already missed. RIP Gonzo.

Tributes for Barry Sergeant: hyena of SA financial journalism

Breaking the news to the journalism community in a Facebook group, travel editor Caroline Hurry said: “Feeling devastated to learn that Barry Sergeant passed away this weekend. He was a fearless journalist, an amazing writer, and a hugely talented cheese maker, among so many, many, other things. He will be very sadly missed.”

Said journalist Fiona Zerbst Hamed (@FionaZerbst) on Twitter: “Barry was a witty raconteur, always generous with his time. Helped me as a young journo. Will miss him.”

Said Stefaans Brümmer (@StefaansB), also a top investigative journalist in South Africa: “May #BarrySergeant, whose business card was as extraordinary as he, fly in peace.”

Posting on Facebook, journalist Eddie Botha said: “Will be missed by all…except perhaps those who got exposed by his fearless keyboard. Well done my friend.” Susan Denny agreed: “Brilliant writer, witty, full of shit. He will be missed.”

Also on Facebook, Pieter Grimbeek noted: “Worked with Barry for 3 years when the whole Brett Kebble story was unfolding. A brilliant person and one of the most interesting and colourful individuals I have ever met. Doing an investment roadshow with him was a unique experience. R. I. P Barry, the world is a less interesting place without you in it.

Neatly encapsulating the many responses on the social media to the news of Barry Sergeant’s death, popular South African columnist David Bullard said on Twitter (@lunchout2): “News of Barry Sergeant’s death has left me feeling quite hollow. He was a true eccentric, a gentleman and a meticulous journalist. RIP”

Responding to Alec Hogg’s tribute on BizNews to Barry Sergeant, Lawrence Dahl said:

“Sergeant’s death is a significant loss both to South African journalism and to the various forums and news websites many of us here peruse. Sergeant popped up often as a commenter, and his opinions were always gutsy, decisive, and informed. His book on Kebble was very good – and sadly overshadowed by Mandy Weiner’s more populist volume. (While Weiner admittedly went much deeper into Kebble’s personal life, approaching the subject with broad brush strokes and considerable gusto, Sergeant was more attuned to the business side, and his prose was far more elegant and intelligent.) A big loss.”

Also responding to Alec Hogg’s tribute was Janine Bester (@JanineBester), a former Moneyweb colleague who heads operations at CNBC Africa: “Written with great flair Alec! The tears flowed! Barry was a very special, eccentric, amazing individual! RIP”

Others who shared the news of Barry Sergeant’s death on Twitter included:

  • Theo Vorster of Galileo Capital (@sakegesprek), calling him the “Joost of investigative journalism!”;
  • Karin Morrow (@rinmor), who said: “I still remember that @carteblanchetv interview he did on exposing rotten BEE deals at Goldfields – classy ?; and
  • Duncan McLeod (@mcleadd), a tech journalist, who commented: “I never met Barry Sergeant, though I wish I had after reading this great eulogy by @alechogg”

Barry Sergeant also left an indelible mark in people’s lives beyond the world of business and journalism.

Teboho Chere posted this tribute on Facebook:

“You were everything in my life, my favourite, role model, mentor and A FATHER TO ME [I lived with Barry Sergeant on the farm from arrival till his last breath]…REST IN PEACE BARRY ? ? ?

Close friends, meanwhile, commented that at last the pain is gone.

Share your tributes about Barry Sergeant, below.