On 27 January 2021 Adv Kemp Jurgen Kemp SC passed away at the age of 69 despite having just fought off a serious bout of Covid-19 infection.

He was born in Kirkwood, a small Eastern Cape village, and grew up on a citrus farm in the vicinity of Kirkwood.

In his youth he was an accomplished rugby player and an exceptionally talented 400 and 800 metre athlete.

He attended the Nelson Mandela University (NMU), then the University of Port Elizabeth, on a sports bursary and gained his LL.B. summa cum laude in considerably less time than is usually the case.

He went on to study law at Oxford under Professor Tony Honoré.  Fellow students at the time were Edwin Cameron and Jeremy Gauntlett.

On his return to South Africa, he was awarded his Doctorate in Law at the tender age of 27.

After initially lecturing law at NMU, he took up a post as a lecturer at the University of Zululand (Unizul) where he went on to become the Dean of the Faculty and a professor.

During his time at Unizul, he lectured many of the judges currently serving on the bench including the Chief Justice, the Honourable Mogoeng Mogoeng.

In a letter to Kemp’s family and friends the Chief Justice had this to say:

 ‘Professor Kemp J Kemp instructed me in the foundational principles of law in the formative years of my legal life at the University of Zululand.  As a young man I was impacted and more meaningfully inspired by his humility and meekness as well as his quest for education that culminated in his acquisition of a Doctor of Laws degree at a young age of about 28 years.

He was our lecturer at the time when apartheid had reached the peak of its manifestation and the depth of its bite.  And yet, not once did Professor Kemp, unlike some who seemingly found it difficult to even pretend, display any sign of disrespect or discrimination against black students and lecturers.  What an exemplary teacher, advocate of justice and equity and nation builder his untimely death has robbed us of.

It always filled me with joy to see him in my chambers whenever he had a case at the Constitutional Court.  I was seldom able to restrain myself from informing his colleagues that he was my foundational lecturer and that he guided and treated us very well.’

He was admitted as an advocate in 1986 and became a member of the Durban Bar in the same year.  Silk status was conferred on him by our late President Nelson Mandela in 1997.

I was privileged to know Kemp and work with him for approximately 30 years.

He was a polymath.  There was no subject that he could not converse on with insight and a remarkable breadth of knowledge.

One of his most endearing qualities was his humility and the unfailing politeness and courtesy that he always showed his colleagues.  I saw many of his combative opponents eating out of his hand after a few doses of his charm.

He had a keen sense of humour and was never short of an incisive quip.

He reminded me a bit of Columbo, the detective in the eponymous American TV series.  Often with his eyes closed and with an inoffensive and almost hesitant style of cross‑examination, he disarmed many witnesses until it was too late and they were trussed like chickens.

He was an original thinker and seemed to know what the correct legal principles were in any given circumstance without having first to distil them from the case law and legal texts.

Although he was a Doctor of Laws, he was certainly no doctor of fashion.  I am sure that he startled many of his colleagues who encountered him working assiduously in his chambers shirtless and in boxer shorts.  In his defence that was usually only when the air conditioning was not working.

He had a beautiful farm in the Eastern Cape between Willowmore and Uniondale.  He enjoyed escaping to his farm but all too often had to take copious files to read to keep on top of his punishing work schedule.

His passing has left not only a huge hole in the lives of his family but also in the lives of those who had the privilege of knowing him and working with him.

8 May 2021