Top journalist Simpiwe Piliso dies in EL

Respected Sunday Times senior journalist Simpiwe Piliso died at an East London hospital early this week.

He was diagnosed with heart failure in 2009 and recently had a successful heart transplant operation at a Cape Town hospital.

Piliso entered journalism on the strength of his letter writing. In 1991, he won the R50 weekly City Press prize for best letter from then down table sub-editor Mike Loewe.

“He was up for his third R50 prize, but there were hundreds of other submissions bulging in the office cabinet, so no he didn’t win again,” said Loewe.

But, in a serendipitous moment in 1995 when Loewe was group editor of East Cape News Agencies (Ecna), he spotted Piliso’s name from among 800 rural applicants seeking to be one of 10 chosen to attend the agency’s year-long trainee journalism programme run in conjunction with the Rhodes Journalism and Media Studies department in Grahamstown.

Loewe said: “He was smart, confident and yet friendly and humble. He was a leading voice in the group, and it was obvious that he would rise through the ranks of journalism quickly. We were coming out of a period of dreadful strife, and he made the cultural and social transition feel effortless. He made us feel free.”

Piliso was recruited from Ecna by the Daily Dispatch as a municipal reporter.

As his journalism career blossomed, he moved to Drum Magazine and then True Love. After leaving the magazine field he had a short stint at the Star before moving back to the Daily Dispatch as a news editor.

In 2004 he joined City Press and spent a month there before joining the Sunday Times. When he died, he was one of the flagship newspaper’s senior journalists based in the Eastern Cape.

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko was the education reporter on the Dispatch when Piliso was the council reporter.

He said: “Simpiwe had a brilliant mind. He was one of the brightest guys that I know, a model professional, a gentlemen and one of South Africa’s top journalists. When I first met him in the 1990s I could see he was destined for greatness in journalism.

“Joining the Sunday Times at the beginning of the year, I looked forward to another opportunity to work with Simpiwe – after more than 15 years since we last worked together. His death this week robbed me and many of his colleagues here of an opportunity to work with him.”

Long-time friend and family spokesman Mphumzi Zuzile said he was gutted by the news of his passing.

“He was more than a friend to me, he was a brother,” Zuzile said,

Piliso is survived by his wife Sange and daughters Afikikile and Siwonge as well as Ongezwa, Simbusisiwe.

He will be buried in Ngcobo on Sunday August. 7 —

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