Delivered at the funeral on 20 June 2015.
Dear friends of Petra
, 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
You all know how Petra took charge of her life, in a wheelchair, over the past 21 years.
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.
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
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.
of the Nazi’s. Their grandfather
was removed as Professor for Eastern Studies at Bonn
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
Petra and her husband, once in South Africa, showed remarkable solidarity with those
In post war Germany, as a young student, Petra worked part-‐time at gatherings now
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
They then got to meet Beyers Naudé of the Christian Institute (CI). Silently at first, and
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
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
people, notably activists for whom it was too dangerous to go to Beyers and Ilse’s home.
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
. 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
Similarly, Ernst employed Indres Naidoo
after Indres completed ten years on Robben
throughout the years.
I was detained under the Terrorism Act in 1975. I was taken for interrogation from
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
and my home. My daughter Zindzi was not yet a year old. Petra and
Sauvignon, the first alcohol that passed my lips after nearly 3 months of enforced
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
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
took the first seven
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
video’s got into the prison due to the hush-‐hush nature of her contact with her political
When the ANC was unbanned, Ernst provided office space in his company for the ANC, so
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
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
outpatient Clinic that in 1985, became the Psychiatric Unit where patients could be
hospitalised. Her former colleague, Dr Cliff Allward
, this week painted a glowing picture
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
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
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
Besides deep integrity, Petra demonstrated through actions rather than words what
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-‐
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!
Petra, born Ebermeier, (1940-‐2015) was a medical doctor, whose family lived in the Bonn area of
the Southern Hemisphere.
Paul Ernst Kahle was one of the most important orientalists of the twentieth century. Born in Hohestein
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)
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.
In June 2006 the following letter appeared in the Mail and Guardian:
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
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
Indres co-‐wrote a book about his life with retired judge Albie Sachs, titled Island in Chains, published by
Ilona and Petra remained trusted friends. I was married to Ilona from 1972 – 1979. Ilona served six
for breaking her banning order.
At the gathering after the funeral two old men who used to work for Munich Re came to me to express
as a day to commemorate before it became a national holiday, something they said, the Black staff deeply
The reason Ernst could be confident that he would not be searched like others when returning to South
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.
Dr. Cliff Allward worked with Petra at Baragwanath Hospital in the 1970’s and 1980’s.