Obituary: Kate Peyton

BBC producer with a love of Africa

THE BBC producer Kate Peyton was one of those rare individuals in the media world whose professional talent was matched by an extraordinary gift for kindness and friendship. Her death as the result of a shooting incident in Somalia this week has robbed Africa of one of its most compassionate observers and her family and friends of a person of matchless warmth.

She had gone to the Somali capital Mogadishu to report on that country's nascent peace process and was standing outside a hotel popular with politicians and journalists when she was murdered. Her brief in Somalia was to record the first signs of hope in that country's recent tragic history. Kate Peyton was a journalist of wide experience, having worked not only in African conflict zones but in the Middle East as well. She was not a risk- taker or a glory-seeker.

Katherine Mary Peyton was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 1965, the daughter of Leslie and Angela Peyton. Her father died in 1978 in a road accident. Kate was educated at Sicklesmere and Culford Schools in Suffolk before going on to study Civil Engineering at Manchester University. However, while at university she found herself increasingly drawn to books and journalism and resolved to make a career as a producer in broadcasting.

On leaving university she got her first job, at BBC Radio Suffolk, and also worked at Radio Merseyside and GMR. Her long-term ambition as a young radio producer was eventually to work in South Africa, a country she had first visited with her family in 1979. Throughout her life she kept in close contact with her South African cousins and it was through them that she developed a deep understanding of the country and its problems.

She finally moved to South Africa to work in the 1990s, firstly for the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC as a freelance producer. She was eventually appointed to the post of Africa Producer for the BBC early in the new millennium. It was a job she relished and did with enthusiasm and passion. She covered many of the major stories of recent years, including the emerging Aids crisis in South Africa, the disaster of the Mozambique floods and the humanitarian emergency of Darfur.

It was in her ability to empathise with Africa's dispossessed and oppressed that Kate Peyton shone. She was always the member of the production team who went back to offer help and kind words to those whose often tragic stories we told.

In her private life she had recently found happiness with her partner Roger Koy and his eight-year-old daughter Chloe. Roger worked as a news cameraman in Africa and Kate had taken on the task of looking after Chloe at her home in Johannesburg.

One of my lasting memories of Kate is of a lunch party at her house last autumn. In the garden, children were playing happily while Kate sat at the table more happy and relaxed than any of her friends could remember. Among those gathered were two African friends - one a Burundian refugee, the other a boy from South Africa's townships. She was helping both through their education and provided constant emotional support. She was a person of consistency as well as generosity.

Kate had wide and varied interests. She sang in a choir in Johannesburg and loved music of all kinds, particularly the vibrant music of the African townships. She also selected African art and painted pottery which was displayed in the always welcoming sitting room of her home. When not "on the road" in Africa, she loved to relax in her garden or to make clothes for her friends and their children.

Kate Peyton loved the continent of Africa and gave more to its children than any other journalist I have known. For her to be murdered in Africa is the most bitter injustice imaginable.

Our vision of Africa will be the poorer for not benefiting from Kate Peyton's eye, writes Alex Duval Smith. She brought to her journalism all her qualities as a human being - especially her intelligence and humility.

She was unusual in this profession because she was driven not by personal ambition but by a desire to understand humanity and a burning need to love it for all its faults. Kate was very clear about the concept that certain people were "important" or "special". It had nothing to do with rank or stature in society, it was a reflection on an individual's contribution to the world. She had ubuntu - that magical southern African concept, dear to Nelson Mandela, which means "I am what I am because I exist in relation to you".

Whenever I was in a dodgy place and Kate turned up, I would feel phew, it is going to be all right, because if it was really dangerous she wouldn't be here. That was a misguided thought - because she went to all the dangerous places - but she had this ability to instil calm in those around her. She had a down-to-earth nature that was incredibly appealing. And then she had this enormous laugh, which must have come from her singing ability, because it was much bigger than she was.

The work and the travel were never good for relationships but in Roger and his little girl, Chloe, who had just moved to Johannesburg and started school, Kate had found personal fulfilment. She was to have married Roger this year and it seems they had plans for a different, more settled existence. It feels terribly unfair that she should have died in Mogadishu, which was part of what was soon to be her old life.

Katherine Mary Peyton, journalist: born Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 13 December 1965; Senior Producer, BBC Johannesburg Bureau 2002-05; died Mogadishu 9 February 2005.

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