When I was editor of the Cape Times and decided in 1998 to launch a project called “One City, Many Cultures”, I knew that I needed the best people to work on it.
It was going to be an editorial project for which I was going to hire some of the best writers and photographers in the country. I therefore needed the best possible coordinators. I found them in Jennifer Crocker, who was then an assistant editor at the Cape Times (who would coordinate the writers) and Garth Stead, who would coordinate the photographers.
My choice of Garth as the photographic coordinator raised some eyebrows because he was still, at about 26 or 27, considered to be very young to take responsibility for such a huge project.
But Garth turned out to be an inspired choice and the photography in “One City, Many Cultures” was among the best I have seen published in any South African newspaper, even up until today.
“One City, Many Cultures” was aimed at creating a more tolerant, more diverse and integrated city of Cape Town, at a time when intolerance was rife in the city. Every day, we delved into the different religions and cultures that existed in the city, explaining how they related to the important things in life, such as birth, growing up, coming of age, weddings, growing old and death and remembrance.
Garth did the job with professionalism but also great enthusiasm. But he also brought another dimension to this job. He included a developmental angle, which was his passion. He got established professional photographers to work with up-and-coming young photographers and initiated an award for both professionals and younger photographers.
One of the young photographers was a security guard at Newspaper House, the building which housed the Cape Times, who later became a reporter/photographer at the Cape Argus.
Garth left the Cape Times at about the same time as me but nor for the same reasons and over the years, we kept in touch. I was very pleased when, after he had freelanced for a few years, he landed the job as pictures editor at Die Burger. At the time of his death, he was Cape Town picture editor of Foto24.
Over the years, he won several awards, including the prestigious Fuji Press Award, and remained committed to developing young photographers, especially from historically disadvantaged areas.
I saw him for the last time last week when we both attended a function of the Cape Town Community Housing Company, on whose board I serve. I was the programme director at the function and Garth was taking pictures for Die Burger.
I remember thinking that he was very reserved and not his bubbly self. Whenever I had seen him in the past, he was always bouncy and full of life. This time, he seemed down and not himself.
A week later, on Monday 19 October, ironically as we celebrated Media Freedom Day in South Africa, I got the news that Garth had passed away. Indications are that he took his own life.
I, like many others, was completely shattered. I could not believe how this young man, aged 37, the father of two young boys, aged 10 and five, could have decided to end his life.
I refuse to speculate on why he did what he did but I know that it was not an easy decision. I know that he loved his boys more than anything else in the world and would not have wanted them to grow up without a father.
All I know is that Garth’s life was one that ended too soon. Rest in peace, my friend.