Brian Bassett: planner, conservator, writer

2017-04-06 14:02
Brian Bassett seen hosting the car show Nqola on Capital Radio 104fm.

Brian Bassett seen hosting the car show Nqola on Capital Radio 104fm. (Facebook)

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Former Pietermaritzburg city planner Brian Bassett died on Tuesday night after a long battle with leukaemia.

He was 71. He is survived by his wife Lin and their daughter Catherine, who flew in from Belgium to support her mother at her father’s sickbed.

The death of this genial giant leaves a big hole on the many organisations in which he still served after retiring from the Msunduzi Municipality.

His qualifications from institutions in South Africa and Britain — where he worked and studied with his wife and where their daughter was born in the 1970s — almost filled his business card; and his achievements as community developer, historic building conservation expert, editor, author, art collector and motoring enthusiast would fill this newspaper.

Suffice to say at the Msunduzi council he is best remembered for laying the foundation to conserve Maritzburg’s old buildings, using the expertise gained from serving on the National Monuments Council. In this role he co-compiled and edited The Buildings of Pietermaritzburg as conservation consultant, which to his recent delight is now a very rare and pricey volume cited in research.

Older citizens will, however, recall how this pragmatic city planner made our headlines by mooting in an informal interview to The Witness that the city should follow Durban’s example to consider a red light district in order to create a safer environment for prostitutes.

Ever the philanthropist with a mission to uplift individuals, Brian ironically did his masters in anthropology on the problems of prostitution in urban areas while a rather shy and gangly young student at the University of Cape Town in the 1960s.

In the early 1980s in Durban, Bassett went on to establish the Built Environment Support Group to enable poor communities to access land, basic services, housing and administrative justice, and continued to serve on this group as deputy chairperson after his retirement. He also continued to give unstintingly of his administrative expertise as board member of several charity organisations, from the Msunduzi Hospice to the Zimele non-profit organisation to the Rotarians, where he worked as hard at selling egg and bacon rolls as he did presiding over meetings.

He was constantly adding to his encyclopaedic knowledge of industrial design trends and driving with him through any part of any city was always an education, be it on architectural eras, or the best types of grass to plant on the banks of rivers to stem floods to protect vegetable gardens.

A rally racer in his youth and lover of fast cars all his life, this bon vivant bought an old Ford Mustang and drove the entire Route 66 in the U.S. and as a student toured the Ibiza coastline in Spain decades before these adventures became standard items on bucket lists.

His last hobby was to write as the new car correspondent for Witness Wheels and host the Nqola show on the local radio station Capital 104 fm.

As a driver he taught all us whippersnappers at The Witness how to milk the most out of life each day, and the Wheels team fondly remembers how he took a young man’s delight in pushing his BMW Z4 as fast as he dared around the hairpins of the Hesketh Race Track, despite having 70+ full summers under his belt.
We all say: Hamba kahle mfowethu.

• Bassett’s funeral will be held at All Saints Church, 73 Montgomery Drive, Northern Park, Pietermaritzburg, on Tuesday, April 11, at 2 pm.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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