“He was a person who was totally unafraid to speak the truth. His loss will be felt. We need people of courage who say what needs to be said.” — Bobby Stevenson
OUTSPOKEN Port Elizabeth councillor and heritage activist Terry Herbst died last night after a massive heart attack.
Herbst, 80, was chatting to his niece, Leslie Weaver, and long-time partner Donald Prosser at their Central home when he suddenly started feeling ill at about 5.45pm.
“We rushed him to hospital … He had a massive heart attack. It’s a total shock. We were just sitting talking … ” Weaver said.
Herbst, a former Herald journalist and Herald Christmas Cheer Beggar-in-Chief, was described last night by friends, colleagues and political foes as “a fearless fighter for justice in the city”, “feisty”, “witty” and “an absolute letter writer”.
He fought tirelessly for the preservation of Port Elizabeth’s heritage, especially in Central, and often took on Irish property mogul Ken Denton. Herbst, a DA member, was re-elected to council as a proportional representative councillor earlier this year. He was also a former arts editor of the Cape Times, and a blunt critic of school productions.
DA leader in the provincial legislature Bobby Stevenson said he was sad to hear of Herbst’s death. “Many years ago, in the 70s, he was an outspoken critic of apartheid. His restaurant [the Sir Rufane Donkin in Central] in Port Elizabeth was the first to open its doors to everyone.
“He was harassed and had dead cats put on his doorstep. He was a person who was totally unafraid to speak the truth. His loss will be felt. We need people of courage who say what needs to be said.”
Robert Ball, managing editor at The Herald when Herbst worked there as a journalist and sub-editor, said he had had a keen interest in theatre and heritage. “He was proud of Port Elizabeth, and very distressed about the demolition of buildings, especially in the Donkin [Reserve] area.
Terry was an extremely feisty person, witty, very amusing and a good public speaker. He fought for the rights of the citizens of the city and fought a good fight to end apartheid.”
Political journalist Patrick Cull said Herbst had had an exemplary record of service with the municipality, both before and after 1994.
“He was one of very few councillors who attended every committee meeting even though he was not a member. He was an absolute letter writer. He had a book with the hundreds of letters he’d written to Bhisho … ”
Mayor Zanoxolo Wayile – who last saw Herbst, wearing pink, at a council meeting before the budget was passed – said he was deeply shocked.
“He was one of those councillors, although he was from the opposition, whom I always regarded with high esteem on the basis that he was honest and frank.
“He’s the one who’s been writing to me on a range of issues, and always follows through. It’s a sad loss for the city and for council.”
Asked for comment, council speaker Maria Hermans said: “You’ll have to have a big book.
“I do believe the Nelson Mandela council has lost. Irrespective of which party he comes from – we were not from the same political party – he made a huge impact.”
Hermans said she would miss Herbst, who had not been “an easy one” in council meetings.
“I had the opportunity to put him out of council for two minutes … After that incident, on the same day, he came to me and gave me a good hug.” Herbst is survived by Prosser and two sisters.