It is a
cruel irony that Kate Peyton, who after being shot while on assignment
for the BBC in the Somali capital Mogadishu, should have fallen victim
to the kind of random violence that she had devoted her working life to
Kate loved Africa, and South Africa especially, and
engaged with so many of the people of the continent with a warmth and
sympathy that was as genuine as it was moving.
After training as
a journalist in BBC local radio, Kate moved to Johannesburg in 1995,
and became entranced by a country still glowing with the optimism and
generosity of the early days of Nelson Mandela’s presidency and the end
She worked briefly for the South African
Broadcasting Corporation, but soon became a mainstay of the BBC’s
southern Africa operation.
She had a quiet gentle charm and a
powerful – though unobtrusive – moral clarity. She thought it a
privilege to be allowed to tell Africa’s story to the BBC – and a
privilege that implied a corresponding duty to get Africa’s story
right, to tell it well, and to do justice to the people whose lives and
(often) deaths we were charting. She hated clichÃ©d portrayals of Africa
and prejudice of any sort.
She took me once to Baragwanath
Hospital in Soweto where she had befriended a group of young mothers
who had discovered, during their pregnancies, that they were HIV
AIDS was still a forbidden subject in South Africa’s
townships. But she persuaded the women to tell their stories,
anonymously, to the BBC even though they had not even told their own
husbands, for fear of being beaten and thrown out of their homes. For
Kate HIV/AIDS was not just a public health crisis. It was about what
the powerful did to the powerless. In her quiet, unobtrusive way, she
cared about that with a passion unmatched by almost anyone else I have
Though Africa was her primary concern she was equally
adept elsewhere – in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, or doggedly
pursuing the Foreign Secretary around Iran.
Once, on her arrival
in Jerusalem, she was checking into the Hilton hotel when a suicide
bomber blew himself up on the street outside. Moments earlier she had
been a few feet away, collecting her luggage from the taxi.Minutes
later, she was reporting the event that had almost taken her own life.
For all her experience in journalism, and her commitment to balanced
and measured judgement, her response to events like this was always,
first and foremost, raw and deeply human. She was sceptical and
believed in scrutiny; but she never grew cynical or unaffected by the
pain of others. She was one of a small, dedicated army of BBC foreign
affairs journalists who work behind the camera and off-microphone,
whose voices are seldom heard on the airwaves. But something of her
compassion and integrity always insinuated its way into the reports of
the correspondents she worked with.
Work was a small part of her
very full life. She grew up in the village of Beyton in Suffolk, where
her mother, Angela, still lives. Her father, whom she adored, died in a
traffic accident when she was a child. She took a degree in civil
engineering but never practised, choosing journalism instead. Kate was
surrounded all her life by her large, gregarious and hospitable
extended family – some at home in England, others in Johannesburg. To
be welcomed across the threshold of their Johannesburg home was to be
embraced by an extraordinary generosity. Kate’s family was the
emotional and moral ballast of her life, and she, like them, was
sustained by a quiet but certain faith. She was also wonderfully funny.
she was surrounded, in Africa, by much human depravity, Kate believed
in human goodness and although she was never pious she believed in
living a good life. She hated injustice and, though she had no
illusions, she thought that journalism should be something honourable.
Her extraordinary generosity of spirit set a kind of standard that many
of us felt we ought to try to live up to. She was effortlessly and
instinctively kind. Her sudden disappearance from the world leaves an
impossible hole in the lives of many of us.
It is doubly cruel
that her death comes at a time when her own life was filling up with a
new happiness. She spent much of the last year grappling with the
bureaucracy required to adopt the daughter of her partner, Roger, whom
she was to marry later this year.
She was excited by the prospect of raising a family of her own.
She is survived by her mother, her sister Rebecca and her brother Charles, who were, throughout her life, her best friends.