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SKN  26.3.  



Tribute  to  Petra  Kahle.  

Horst  Kleinschmidt  

Delivered  at  the  funeral  on  20  June  2015.  

 

 



 

Dear  friends  of  Petra

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,  dear  Paul  and  dear  Georg,  dear  Christiane,  and  relations,  



 

Today  we  say  farewell  to  a  courageous,  honest,  modest  to  a  fault,  but  heroic  individual  

whose  human  understanding  and  compassion  played  a  unique  part  in  the  struggle  to  

overcome  apartheid.    

 

You  all  know  how  Petra  took  charge  of  her  life,  in  a  wheelchair,  over  the  past  21  years.    



She  fought  the  disability  imposed  on  her  with  untold  will  and  inner  strength.    She  amazed  

us  all  with  her  keenness  to  keep  being  involved  in  what  went  on  around  her,  with  her  

tenacity  to  meet  people,  always  with  a  smile,  never  with  a  complaint  and  as  an  avid  

reader  who  kept  track  of  South  African  and  global  events.    

 

Petra,  beside  her  considerably  intellect,  also  had  what  I  call,  profound  social  intelligence.  



She  could  comfort  people,  help  them  talk  matters  through  and  cared  deeply  for  her  wide  

circle  of  friends  –  and  of  course  for  her  family.    The  debility  that  befell  her  did  not  cause  

her  to  turn  inward  and  become  bitter,  whatever  the  very  considerable  obstacles  her  

failing  body  imposed  on  her.    Her  means  to  cope  was  to  engage  her  bright  mind  and  her  

shining  inner  beauty,  to  look  beyond  the  physical  limitations  toward  the  world  of  thought  

and  intellectual  stimulation.    She  shunned  talking  about  herself  –  had  no  self-­‐pity  and  

wanted  no  one  to  pity  her.  Until  the  burdens  became  too  many,  she  kept  a  lively  interest  

in  all  that  is  positive  about  the  new  South  Africa,  but  would  not  spare  the  people  and  

government  that  is  turning  the  gains  of  1994  into  a  new  deep  darkness.    

 

You  can  all  identify  with  these  words.    



 

I  want  to  speak  of  other  parts  of  Petra’s  life  that  many  of  you  may  not  know  much  about.  

 

Petra  arrived  with  her  husband  Ernst  in  South  Africa  in  1972  during  the  height  of  



apartheid.    Ernst’s  employer  had  posted  him  to  take  over  the  company  operations  here.    

Petra  Kahle  was  a  friend,  confidant  of  Ds  Beyers  Naudé  and  psychiatrist  to  a  

large  number  of  political  detainees  at  Baragwanath  hospital.  At  times  the  

Security  Police  (SB’s)  had  their  victims  treated  and  moved  them  from  Diepkloof  

prison  to  the  hospital  and  into  Petra’s  care.  

 

Petra’s  funeral  took  place  on  Saturday  20

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 June  2015  at  the  Holy  Trinity  Catholic  

Church,  Braamfontein,  Johannesburg.  The  tribute  below  tribute  was  one  of  four.  

The  others  were  by  Amina  Frense,  Irene  Menell  and  Bibi  Kahn.  


 

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But  South  Africa  was  not  the  place  where  Petra  and  Ernst  longed  to  live.  Both  Petra’s  and  

Ernst’s  families  belong  to  the  tradition  of  Germans,  few  in  number,  who  stood  up  against  

Nazi  rule  and  the  persecution  of  German  Jews.    Petra  was  not  keen  to  come  to  another  

country  governed  by  race  laws,  racism  and  authoritarian  rule.    

 

Petra’s  sons,  Paul  and  Georg  are  the  grandchildren  of  people  they  may  justly  be  proud  of.    



Their  paternal  grandparents,  through  solidarity  with  German  Jews  suffered  at  the  hands  

of  the  Nazi’s.    Their  grandfather

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 was  removed  as  Professor  for  Eastern  Studies  at  Bonn  



University,  and  the  Nazi’s  detained  their  grandmother,  when  she  assisted  a  Jewish  

shopkeeper  whose  business  was  smashed  by  Nazi  storm  troopers  during  Kristallnacht.  

They  left  for  England  before  the  war  started.    The  family  are  of  the  Catholic  faith  who  

knew  that  to  be  truly  Christian  they  could  not  turn  and  look  the  other  way  and  ignore  

what  was  being  done  to  the  Jews.    Such  solidarity  is  a  rare  quality  and  deserves  

celebration.      

 

Petra  and  her  husband,  once  in  South  Africa,  showed  remarkable  solidarity  with  those  



fighting  apartheid.      

 

In  post  war  Germany,  as  a  young  student,  Petra  worked  part-­‐time  at  gatherings  now  



known  as  the  Königswinter  talks.  These  talks  facilitated  German-­‐English  dialogue  

between  former  war  opponents.  The  objective  was  to  bring  Germany  back  into  

democratic  discourse.  A  prominent  supporter  of  this  German  initiative  was  an  

Englishman  by  the  name  of  Sir  Robert  Birley,  ex  Eaton  Head  Master  and  then  Educational  

Advisor  to  the  British  Government  in  Germany.  Petra  knew  him  from  there.    

 

When  Petra  found  herself  in  Johannesburg  in  1972,  she  re-­‐established  contact  with  



Robert  Birley,  who  then  taught  at  Wits.    He  introduced  Petra  and  Ernst  into  politically  

dissenting  circles.    

 

They  then  got  to  meet  Beyers  Naudé  of  the  Christian  Institute  (CI).    Silently  at  first,  and  



when  the  CI  was  banned  in  1977,  secretly,  Petra  and  Ernst  donated  privately  to  the  work  

of  the  CI.    A  strong  and  lasting  bond  developed,  between  Petra  and  Beyers  Naudé.    It  was  

through  this  connection  that  I  first  met  Petra  and  became  a  friend  in  the  Kahle  home.  My  

friendship  with  Petra  was  sustained  during  my  15  years  of  exile  and  I  became  a  guest  in  

her  house  again  after  my  return  in  the  early  90’s.    

 

I  know  that  I  speak  for  very  many  of  you  when  I  say  I  shall  miss  Petra  deeply.    With  



fondness,  I  shall  remember  entering  the  dining  room  of  her  Westcliffe  home  where  Petra  

loved  to  sit,  wrapped  up,  enjoying  the  sun  and  a  view  that  stretches  all  the  way  to  the  

Magaliesberg.  She  would  put  aside  whatever  book  she  was  reading,  beckon  you  to  come  

and  sit  next  to  her  and  enquire  and  listen  eagerly  but  also  patiently.      

 

Petra’s  friendship  with  Beyers  took  on  added  significance  when  Beyers  was  banned.    In  



solidarity  with  our  struggle,  she  offered  her  home  as  a  place  where  Beyers  could  meet  

people,  notably  activists  for  whom  it  was  too  dangerous  to  go  to  Beyers  and  Ilse’s  home.    




 

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Beyers  valued  access  to  this  ‘safe’  house,  not  least  also  to  safely  keep  moneys  and  letters  

the  SB’s  might  look  for  at  Beyers  and  Ilse’s  home.  Petra  provided  a  nook  in  her  kitchen  

that  Beyers  could  retreat  to,  apparently  enjoying  a  meal,  or  writing  a  letter,  while  those  

Beyers  was  ostensibly  meeting,  remained  in  the  dining  room,  should  there  be  the  dreaded  

knock  on  the  door.    Petra,  ever  discreet,  asked  no  questions  and  did  not  want  to  know  the  

names  of  those  who  entered  her  house.    

 

Ernst  Kahle’s  contempt  for  the  SB  and  apartheid  police  is  legendary.    To  counter  the  



social  isolation  and  ostracism  of  political  activists,  he  employed  a  former  detainee,  Eric  

Molobi


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.    Eric  remained  politically  active  and  soon  was  detained  again  whereupon  Ernst  

walked  into  the  Krugersdorp  Police  Station  were  Eric  was  interrogated  and  tortured,  and  

successfully  intimidated  the  police  to  the  point  where  they  let  him  into  Eric’s  cell,  to  sit  

down  and  talk  to  him.  The  Molobi  family  became  Petra’s  close  friends

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.    



 

Similarly,  Ernst  employed  Indres  Naidoo

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 after  Indres  completed  ten  years  on  Robben  



Island.  Indres  is  now  frail  but  his  wife  Gabi  has  remained  a  loyal  friend  to  Petra  

throughout  the  years.  

 

I  was  detained  under  the  Terrorism  Act  in  1975.  I  was  taken  for  interrogation  from  



Pretoria  Central  Prison  to  Compol.  In  the  cubicle  where  I  was  interrogated  stood  boxes  of  

material  the  SB  had  taken  from  our  house.  Next  to  the  boxes  were  huge  foolscap  folders  

with  enlarged  black  and  white  photos.    Several  photos  were  of  Petra  and  Ernst  coming  

out  the  front  door  of  their  home,  or  sitting  in  their  car  at  a  traffic  light,  or  shaking  hands  

with  people  they  met.    I  was  asked:  Why  did  they  come  to  South  Africa?  What  are  they  

telling  you?    Why  do  you  visit  them  so  often?    Who  are  their  black  friends?    –  I  was  left  

with  the  impression  that  Petra  and  Ernst  would  be  deported.  On  the  evening  when  I  was  

released,  after  73  days  in  solitary  confinement,  an  impromptu  reception  party  was  

organised  at  Ilona’s

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 and  my  home.  My  daughter  Zindzi  was  not  yet  a  year  old.    Petra  and  



Ernst  arrived;  I  remember  it  clearly,  with  twelve  bottles  of  Zonnebloem,  Cabernet  

Sauvignon,  the  first  alcohol  that  passed  my  lips  after  nearly  3  months  of  enforced  

abstinence.    

 

On  11



th

 June  1988  -­‐  I  was  in  exile  by  then  -­‐  a  massive  musical  concert  at  Wembley  

Football  stadium  took  place.  It  was  billed  as  the  Nelson  Mandela  70

th

 Birthday  Tribute.    



For  12  hours  artists  from  around  the  globe  paid  tribute  to  the  father  of  our  nation.  600  

million  people  in  67  countries  watched  and  made  their  demand  for  the  release  of  Nelson  

Mandela  and  all  other  political  prisoners.    It  took  seven  videocassette’s  to  record  the  

event  from  start  to  finish.  One  week  after  the  event,  Ernst  Kahle

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 took  the  first  seven  



cassettes  through  Jan  Smuts  airport,  undetected  as  he  predicted

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,  and  gave  them  to  

Petra  who  was  working  at  Baragwanath  Hospital.  Many  of  her  patients  were  political  

detainees,  otherwise  held  at  Diepkloof  prison.  They  required  specialist  medical  and  

psychiatric  support  after  their  interrogations.  Petra  would  try  to  smuggle  the  cassettes,  

one  by  one  to  these  prisoners  so  they  could  get  them  into  Diepkloof.  The  idea  was  that  

when  warders  showed  prisoner’s  videos  (of  their  choice),  so  the  warders  could  go  

drinking  on  Saturday  afternoons,  the  prescribed  cassette  would  be  removed  and  the  



 

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Wembley  Mandela  concert  be  seen  instead.  Petra  later  said  she  could  not  be  certain  the  

video’s  got  into  the  prison  due  to  the  hush-­‐hush  nature  of  her  contact  with  her  political  

patients.      

 

When  the  ANC  was  unbanned,  Ernst  provided  office  space  in  his  company  for  the  ANC,  so  



the  ANC  could  establish  itself.    These  were  extraordinary  gestures.    It  resulted  in  the  ANC  

leadership  coming  to  have  meals  at  the  Kahle  home  where  Petra  was  the  ever-­‐perfect  

hostess  despite  her  demanding  work  at  Bara.    Ernst  may  have  grabbed  the  political  

headlines,  but  without  any  doubt,  Petra  provided  coherence  and  shape  to  Ernst’s  actions.    

 

She  also  was  the  one  who  was  the  pillar  in  the  family  and  who  steered  the  Kahle  ship  



through  turbulent  seas,  caused  by  Ernst  in  their  relationship.  Petra  responded  with  grace  

and  stoicism.    Not  infrequently,  Petra  was  known  to  repair  and  forgive.    All  of  us  who  

know  her,  salute  her  for  being  an  unshakable  rock.    

 

Had  Petra  not  been  injured  in  that  car  accident,  she  would  probably  still  be  professionally  



engaged.    When  she  came  to  Baragwanath  Hospital  Petra  started  the  first  Psychiatric  

outpatient  Clinic  that  in  1985,  became  the  Psychiatric  Unit  where  patients  could  be  

hospitalised.  Her  former  colleague,  Dr  Cliff  Allward

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,  this  week  painted  a  glowing  picture  



of  what  Petra  did  for  South  Africa  through  her  work  at  Bara.  He  spoke  to  me  of  Petra’s  

social  and  political  awareness  that  made  it  possible  for  the  unit  to  be  rooted  in  the  South  

African  reality  of  the  time,  essential  because  of  the  clients  it  served.  He  added  that  it  also  

served  as  a  political  awakening  for  many  of  the  doctors  around  her.    Allward  described  

how  Petra’s  reputation  grew  and  the  Psychiatric  Unit  attracted  many  people  in  need  

when  “being  in  political  trouble”.    

 

Allward  described  to  me  how  the  murder  of  Steve  Biko  in  1977,  impacted  the  conduct  of  a  



”jumpy”  Security  Police  for  a  while.    They  apparently  feared  that  through  their  torture,  

more  detainees  might  die.    Their  grotesque  response  was  to  send  ever  more  people  they  

tortured  during  detention,  to  Petra’s  Unit  for  treatment.    

 

Allward  movingly  calls  her  a  trailblazer  and  friend.  She  had  come  at  a  time  when  South  



Africa  was  most  in  need  of  someone  with  her  kind  of  empathy,  willing  to  work  in  the  

highly  charged  circumstances  in  which  she  worked.    He  said  her  real  quality  lay  in  the  

multiplicity  of  small  things  she  did  for  her  clients  and  the  Unit,  which  added  up  to  the  sum  

of  her  achievement.  Allward  said  she  did  this  with  “total,  total  integrity  and  caring”,  and  

added:  Petra  was  able  to  do  her  job  so  well  because  in  her  social  life  she  met  people  living  

on  the  political  edge.    He  concluded:  “She  white-­‐anted  the  apartheid  system”.                    

 

Yes,  we  shed  tears  today  for  you  Petra  but  we  also  celebrate  your  life.  Thank  you  for  all  



that  you  gave  us.      

 

Besides  deep  integrity,  Petra  demonstrated  through  actions  rather  than  words  what  



solidarity  means.    She  came  from  another  country,  not  to  be  another  white  immigrant  


 

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whose  presence  bolstered  apartheid.    Her  morality  compelled  her  to  get  involved,  and  in  

so  doing,  we  South  Africans  embraced  her  and  continue  to  embrace  her,  as  one  of  us.  

 

I  cannot  let  go,  without  speaking  of  Petra’s  sons  Paul  and  Georg.  Guys,  your  extra-­‐



ordinary  support,  love  and  care  for  your  mother  over  the  past  21  years  is  deserving  of  

very  special  praise  and  recognition.  All  of  Petra’s  friends  have,  over  the  years  admired  

your  wonderful  attributes,  shown  by  you  at  a  time  when  teenage  and  professional  life  

was  pressing  you  to  get  on  with  other  things.    But,  you  never  spared  a  moment  for  the  

special  needs  and  care  your  mother  required.  You  have  come  from  a  tradition  and  with  

credentials  we  cannot  forget.    When  we  see  you  in  the  future,  we  will  always  recognise  in  

you  what  you  did  for  your  mother.    We  embrace  you  too  as  one  of  us!  

 

Thank  you.  



     

                                                                                                               

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Petra,  born  Ebermeier,  (1940-­‐2015)  was  a  medical  doctor,  whose  family  lived  in  the  Bonn  area  of  



Germany.  She  worked  as  a  Psychiatrist  at  Baragwanath  Hospital  most  of  her  life,  then  the  largest  hospital  in  

the  Southern  Hemisphere.    

 

_______________________________________  



 

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 Paul  Ernst  Kahle  was  one  of  the  most  important  orientalists  of  the  twentieth  century.  Born  in  Hohestein  



(Eastern  Prussia)  in  1875,  he  studied  theology  and  ‘Oriental  Studies'  in  Marburg  and  Halle.  

In  1923,  he  moved  to  Bonn,  where  he  was  appointed  director  of  the  ‘Oriental  Department’  of  the  University  

and  secretary  of  the  Deutsche  Morgenländischen  Gesellschaft  (DMG).  

Nazism   had   serious   consequences   for   Paul   Kahle   and   his   family.   In   November   1938,   following   the  

Kristallnacht,  Paul  Kahle's  wife  and  eldest  son  aided  a  Jewish  shopkeeper  in  Bonn.  As  a  result  of  this,  Paul  

Kahle  faced  constant  persecution  and  intimidation,  as  a  result  of  which  he  lost  his  post  at  the  University.  In  

1939,  he  joined  his  wife  and  five  sons  (Wilhelm,  Hans,  Theodor,  Paul  and  Ernst),  he  took  refuge  in  England.  

In  England,  Kahle  worked  on  the  catalogue  of  Islamic  manuscripts  at  the  Chester  Beatty  library.  In  1941,  he  

was  asked  to  give  a  series  of  lectures  at  the  British  Academy.  These  lessons  formed  the  basis  of  his  major  

work,  on  the  Cairo  Geniza.  

Only  after  World  War  II  was  it  possible  for  Kahle  once  more  to  take  possession  of  his  library.  He  was  then  

appointed  Professor  emeritus  of  the  University  of  Bonn.  He  died  in  Düsseldorf  in  1964.  (Source:  Wikipedia)  

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Eric,  after  1994,  became  the  founder  of  Kagiso  Trust  Investments,  a  significant  Black  investment  

company.  As  one  of  the  first  black  companies  in  South  Africa  it  is  respected  for  its  influence,  based  not  least  

on  the  fact  that  it  was  not  indebted  to  benefactors  for  their  shareholding.  

 

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 In  June  2006  the  following  letter  appeared  in  the  Mail  and  Guardian:    



Molobi:  Kahle’s  role  vital:  I  am  surprised  so  little  has  been  said  in  the  media  about  the  relationship  between  

Eric  Molobi  and  the  family  of  Ernst  Kahle,  CEO  of  Munich  Reinsurance.    When  Molobi  was  released  from  

Robben  Island  in  1981,  Beyers  Naude  approached  Kahle  to  employ  him.  That  laid  the  foundation  for  

Molobi’s  business  acumen.  

When  the  African  National  Congress  was  unbanned  in  1990,  Kahle  made  available  two  floors  of  the  Munich  



 

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Re  building,  in  Johannesburg’s  Sauer  Street,  to  the  party.  It  was  here  that  Nelson  Mandela  had  his  first  office  

after  his  release.  

Kahle  took  a  huge  risk  at  a  time  when  most  other  business  executives  were  still  coming  to  terms  with  the  

fact  that  the  ANC  had  been  unbanned.  

When  Kahle  was  killed  in  a  car  accident  in  1993,  Molobi  gave  a  moving  tribute  at  his  funeral,  

acknowledging  how  much  Kahle’s  support  and  mentoring  had  meant  to  him  in  his  time  of  need.—Marilyn  

Aitken,  Underberg.  

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Indres  co-­‐wrote  a  book  about  his  life  with  retired  judge  Albie  Sachs,  titled  Island  in  Chains,  published  by  

Penguin.  

 

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Ilona  and  Petra  remained  trusted  friends.  I  was  married  to  Ilona  from  1972  –  1979.  Ilona  served  six  



months  in  prison  for  refusing  to  testify  (contempt  of  court)  against  Mrs.  Winnie  Mandela  who  was  charged  

for  breaking  her  banning  order.  

 

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At  the  gathering  after  the  funeral  two  old  men  who  used  to  work  for  Munich  Re  came  to  me  to  express  



their  thanks  for  my  words.  They  wanted  me  to  know  that  Ernst  had  made  Munich  Re  staff  observe  16  June  

as  a  day  to  commemorate  before  it  became  a  national  holiday,  something  they  said,  the  Black  staff  deeply  

appreciated.  

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 The  reason  Ernst  could  be  confident  that  he  would  not  be  searched  like  others  when  returning  to  South  



Africa,  was  that  he  had  recently  been  invited  to  serve  on  President  P.W.  Botha’s  Economic  Advisory  Council,  

an  honorary  position  only,  but  one  that  meant  his  entry  and  exit  from  South  Africa  was  through  the  VIP  

Lounge  where  no  searches  for  illegal  items  were  undertaken.  It  seems  that  the  size  of  Munich  Re,  the  

company  Ernst  represented,  had  reached  prominence  and  size  that  afforded  him  this  honor.  In  typical  style,  

the  one  hand  of  the  apartheid  state  did  not  know  what  the  other  was  doing;  at  best  they  wanted  to  gain  his  

favor  despite  the  actions  he  was  known  for.

   

 

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Dr.  Cliff  Allward  worked  with  Petra  at  Baragwanath  Hospital  in  the  1970’s  and  1980’s.  




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