The late Professor Mohammad Karaan was just a year old when, on 29 September 1969, he was hit by South Africa’s biggest earthquake to date. This moment, while he was sitting on the lap of his uncle, shaped his destiny, believes Dr Ali Adam.
Adam, founding director of the Two Oceans Graduate Institute, was among the many dignitaries who said their final goodbyes to Karaan during a virtual memorial service held this morning.
The agricultural economist and celebrated thought leader died of Covid-19 on 13 January 2021, just nine days before his 53rd birthday.
“He was on my lap on the night an earthquake hit Tulbagh. Karaan screamed, ‘Bang, bang!’ (mimicking the sound of items falling because of the 5.5-magnitude quake).
“He held on to me tightly. He was so innocent. Him surviving, I knew he was destined for great things.”
Adam said although the Karaan family is filled with great sadness and sorrow following his sudden death, they were most grateful that so many people, from all walks of life, could experience the magnitude of Karaan’s “warm spirit and ever-prevalent mischievous smile.”
Colleagues in academia and the agricultural and social justice honoured Karaan during the Zoom service hosted by the Faculty of Agrisciences at Stellenbosch University. His death was described as a great loss for the agricultural fraternity.
In an emotional virtual send-off, friends, family members and colleagues shared treasured memories and intricate insights on some of the valuable lessons they learned from Karaan.
Adam said he and his late nephew were passionate about starting an agricultural school of their own to “rebuild the nation”.
“Like my father and his grandfather, Karaan believed the most natural career for humans was agriculture. That is why he studied it. For any nation to be strong and powerful, its agricultural value chain must be at an extraordinary level,” said Adam.
‘He transcended societal indifference’
Stanley Subramoney, director of aquaponics and fishing company Terrasan Group, said Karaan will always be remembered for the imprint he has left in the agricultural sector. Karaan joined the Terrasan Group in 2010 and was appointed as its chairperson in 2012.
“An icon in the agricultural sector… Under his leadership, the group achieved many goals, growing revenue exponentially.
“With a remarkable clarity of vision and with great imagination for what could be, Prof. Karaan helped to lead Terrasan to the future. For this we are eternally grateful.”
To honour his “simple yet profound life,” the board of Terrasan today announced the Mohammad Karaan Legacy Foundation to support disadvantaged students looking to pursue agricultural studies.
“Professor was passionate about education, and in his honour this foundation will support PhD students in agriculture; disadvantaged students who wish to pursue farming and fishing and other projects,” said Subramoney.
A champion for the poor
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel remembered Karaan as a lover of the people, knowledge, and virtue.
He said Karaan was so “comfortable in his skin and belief system” that he strived to create a better life for the poor of South Africa.
Karaan was a member of the National Planning Commission under the leadership of Manuel, who served as minister in the presidency in 2013.
“Mohammad sought to honour all those who had suffered for justice and freedom in our land. He sought to respect and honour all those who built and developed our country.
“He believed South Africa belonged to all who lived in it; black and white, rural and urban, Muslim, Jew and Christian.
“He lived a continuum of his own life and worked for his beliefs. He was known by the fishing folk, farmworkers… He journeyed deep into rural areas as he travelled to meet people to offer his assistance.
“On that journey across the country there was one guarantee: that everybody would be treated as people.”
‘Karaan was a bridge-builder’
Stellenbosch University colleagues honoured Karaan for his contribution towards creating diversity.
Vice-chancellor Professor Wim de Villiers said, “From the beginning of his journey at Stellenbosch in the 1980’s he built bridges… He was one of those who made the wheels change.”
De Villiers’ sentiments were echoed by agricultural economist Prof. Nick Vink.
“He was a bridge builder who had a vision of what the country should look like. He had patience and was wise beyond his years. Whatever mission he tackled was left better, stronger. Not many people have the track record he has.
“He was a man of surprises. A poet, hunter and sometimes a little naive, not in a bad way… He treated everyone with respect. His humanity shone through with every interaction,” said Vink.
“With a remarkable clarity of vision and with great imagination for what could be, Professor Karaan led us to the future.”
Karaan’s 52-year-old life was testament to the Almighty’s saying, “For I know the plans I have for you,” remarked a former colleague, Prof. Eltie Links. “Karaan was a team player, knowing all the right people and introducing them to us. He was a true bridge builder.”
In a teary address, Karaan’s sister Fatima Karaan expressed her appreciation for the support from Karaan’s colleagues and friends. “It was very hard to hear of his passing. We will forever remember him for everything that he stood for. He will forever be in our hearts.”