Phillip O’Kelly became one of the principal architects of the modernisation of the broadcasting industry in South Africa. His meteoric rise through the ranks from electronic engineering student to General Manager underlines the major contribution he made to the success of the SABC during the eighties and nineties.
Phillip joined the SABC in 1978 and started his studies in Electronic Engineering at the then Wits Technicon, which he finished with a T6
During the next few years he rose from systems engineer to General Manager, TV Facilities at the SABC.
He was a natural born leader with the innate ability to build teams capable of solving any situation. He was instrumental and an integral part of organizing and implementing in the successful broadcast of the democratic elections in 1994 and the Rugby world cup in 1995. Further to his managerial and leadership skills he had a no nonsense approach and uncanny strategic vision in recognizing and developing new business opportunities. Due to that vision many of his structures are still operating well today.
He earned himself the nickname POK taken from his initials, usually signed on the comment note stuck to the document. Phillip was a great believer in promoting and thrusting responsibility onto people irrespective of race, colour or creed and allowing them to sink or swim. This process gave rise to a generation of new executives with knowledge and experience. With his passing away an immense store of knowledge have been irretrievably lost.
Such was the respect he commanded in the industry that he was recently invited and inducted to the IEEE (International Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers).
POK always drove himself and his staff hard but he was invariably good company and a giant socially, with an impish sense of humor. He took immense pride in the achievements of the SABC rugby teams of which he was part of, their games and off the field adventures, and as usual POK was one of the main characters. He loved reminiscing about the past games and adventures. He also was an ardent Cheetah supporter having received provincial colours for rugby at high school in the Free State.
During 1996 Phillip started Zimele Broadcasting Services (Pty) Ltd. He chose the word “Zimele’, since he always was partial to the Zulu language. He claimed he could speak Zulu better than his home language before he started school. Zimele comes from a Zulu word which means, ” to stand on your own when you are small and be independent’. This culture was and still is actively promoted in Zimele to encourage responsibility and accountability and never to give up.
POK was a fabulous person, dedicated to the broadcasting industry in body and soul. As great as his love for broadcasting was, was his love for his sons, family, friends and colleagues from across the world.
Phillip O’Kelly was a true South African who loved his country but was also fiercely proud of his Irish heritage and a person who was guided by the principles of Psalm112.
Our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family.
Phillip O’Kelly, businessman and engineer, was born 27 April, 1960. He died on 9 August, 2007.