‘An irreparable loss’: Prof. Mohammad Karaan has died

Prof. Mohammad Karaan first fell in love with agriculture having watched his late grandfather. The agricultural icon, who died earlier today, served Mzansi in many capacities, including as a co-author of the National Development Plan and member of pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s panel on land reform and agriculture

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South Africa’s agricultural community has expressed their sorrow over the death of Mohammad Karaan, a professor in agricultural economics, who passed away earlier today.

While details surrounding his passing are still unknown, his family has confirmed his death to Food For Mzansi. It is understood that his death was caused by a Covid-19-related illness.

Karaan, a co-author of the National Development Plan, also served on pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s advisory panel on land reform in agriculture. He holds various degrees from Stellenbosch University, including a BScAgric, MScAgric and a PhD. He first joined this university as a lecturer in agricultural economics in 1996 and was appointed dean of the faculty of agrisciences 12 years later.

Proud agricultural ambassador

In earlier interviews, Karaan credited his hawker grandfather, Abdul Adam, for his love for agriculture. His late father’s family hails from the Strand in the Western Cape where they were known as fishermen, masons and artisans.

His great-grandparents were from Central Java and India, with his maternal great-grandfather being a farmer, first in India and later in KwaZulu-Natal when he relocated to South Africa. Adam, Karaam’s grandfather, farmed with tobacco and ran a dairy on the banks of the Umzimkuluri river in the former Transkei.

“Look,” said Karaan in an earlier interview with journalist Kirby van der Merwe. “If you grew up as a hawker, you look at the world differently and understand the business world differently. You look for opportunities, you think creatively to make a profit. You do not get caught up in poverty and lamentations. You make something of little.”

Dr John Purchase, Agbiz CEO
Dr John Purchase, chief executive officer of Agbiz. Photo: Supplied

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The rugby-loving agriculturist had many accolades. This includes being the chairperson of the National Agricultural Marketing Council from 2005 to 2007, president of the Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa from 2008 to 2009 and serving on the board of the Agricultural Research Council.

Furthermore, Karaan championed the cause of farmers on various ministerial committees under different government administrations.

“His passing is a huge shock and very sad news,” said John Purchase, chief executive of Agbiz, during an interview with Duncan Masiwa. “He was a very good friend of mine and an influential figure in agriculture. His passing is a huge loss to our sector.”

Purchase paid tribute to his friend, who also served with him on the board of the Land Bank. “We had numerous interactions while he was also a member of the National Planning Commission of South Africa, and even before that during agricultural indabas that were held.”

Christo Van der Rheede, Deputy Executive Director of AgriSA.
Christo Van der Rheede, deputy executive director of AgriSA. Photo: Supplied

Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede told Noluthando Ngcakani that he is devastated by the news of Karaan’s passing.

“It is a massive loss for the industry, a massive loss for the National Development Plan and Stellenbosch University. Prof. Karaan played such a vital role in all of these organs. He had intimate knowledge of the agricultural sector. Internationally, he also played an incredible role in paving the way forward for the industry.”

Van der Rheede recalled an engagement with the agricultural icon during the December holidays.

“I cannot believe it. We shared so many ideas, plans, and now suddenly he has just passed away. His passing has just made us realise that this Covid-19 pandemic is fatal. We are appealing to everyone to always try and be safe in this time of crisis.”

The Western Cape minister of agriculture, Dr Ivan Meyer, is among the many South Africans who took to social media to express their shock about Karaan’s passing. Meyer described it as “a huge loss for the agricultural and academic community in South Africa. Another tree has fallen. His legacy and contribution will continue to inspire us.”

In 2018, Karaan became the first black person to be appointed as president of the Maties Rugby Club. Among his other friends counted well-known former rugby players Jan Boland Coetzee and Freddie Ferreira.

He leaves behind his wife, Basheerah, and five children, Zayne, Kamillah, Tauriq, Burhaan and Adam. He is the brother of Mufti Taaha Karaan, one of the leading Islamic researchers in the Western Cape.

Karaan will be buried today according to Muslim funeral rituals.

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