Cape Town - Renowned South African journalist Bert van Hees, who specialised in reporting on court proceedings for more than four decades, died on Tuesday night. He was 72.
Van Hees had been battling lung cancer that had spread to the ribs and spine.
At the time of his death, Van Hees was freelancing for the African News Agency (ANA), diligently reporting from the courtrooms of Cape Town's northern suburbs, with the Commercial Crimes Court in Bellville a particular fount of great, and often times, wonderfully quirky news stories.
ANA Editor-in-Chief, Lindiz van Zilla, said Van Hees represented all that was professional, courteous and was a simply wonderful man.
"A gentle gentleman," is how Van Zilla described him.
Despite his deteriorating condition, he refused to buckle and insisted on carrying on his reporting duties as best he could, arguing that to remove him from his beloved court beat would hasten his demise.
ANA Courts Editor, Catherine Rice, said Van Hees will be remembered in court corridors as the impeccably dressed gentleman, always wearing a suit and tie, and with a smile on his face.
"A gentle and kind soul, he was well-known to prosecutors and court officials. He had a nose for quirky stories and loved to have a good chuckle at some of the accused's versions of the truth," said Rice.
"He will be missed by young reporters who he was happy to mentor and help in any way he could."
True to form and ever the considerate professional, Van Hees had compiled a record of his remarkable 42-year career in court reporting for the day when he would lay his pen to rest.
In his own words, he started his court reporting career in 1972, with the Windhoek Advertiser in Namibia, at the time under the editorship of the late JM Smith.
He had previously spent a two-year stint as an attorney’s clerk with the Namibian law firm Howard & Wasserfall.
It was what he described as "a heart-rending experience" that made him turn his back on the legal profession and instead turn his love of the law into a career as a court reporter.
Van Hees said that a case involving an unfortunate woman who had landed in trouble due to an innocent misunderstanding of a civil summons persuaded him that the legal profession was not his "cup of tea".
After two years with the Windhoek Advertiser, Van Hees married his wife, Angelika, whom he met in Windhoek, and together they moved to Pretoria where he had been offered the position of Supreme Court reporter with the Pretoria News.
Whilst at the Pretoria News, his interests turned to the ever-popular weekly Starline consumer columns of The Star newspaper in Johannesburg, aimed at rooting out commercial exploitation, and similar Argus Action weekly columns in Cape Town.
A vacancy for a journalistic investigator at Argus Action saw Van Hees transfer to The Argus newspaper in Cape Town in 1976. He was soon promoted to the post of Head of Argus Action, a post that he held until Argus Action was closed down in 1983.
Van Hees then joined The Citizen as the newspaper's Cape Bureau Chief but his love for court reporting remained undimmed and it brought him to the attention of the South African Press Association (Sapa), who requested him to furnish them with copies of his daily court stories.
Thus began his long and happy association with Sapa as a court stringer. His association with Sapa continued until the closure of Sapa itself on March 31, 2015, when he joined News24 as their Cape Town court stringer.
He then joined the newly-started ANA where he continued his court reporting beat under the guidance of his long-standing friend Rice.
Van Hees said the happiest years of his working life were the two-year stint with the law firm, his seven years with Argus Action, his subsequent weekly Weekend Argus columns about the entertaining goings-on in the Small Claims Courts, followed by his small claims website, www.smallclaimssa.co.za and, more recently, his years working for ANA.
Van Hees leaves his wife and two children, Michael, currently in the United Kingdom, and daughter Tamryn.