Goodbye to ‘one of nature’s gentlemen’

Dr Ampie Muller at his Marina da Gama home.

Professor Ampie Muller will be remembered as a master of conflict resolution who helped to steer the country to a peaceful transition, as well as a noted academic, broadcaster and lover of language and music.

A Marina da Gama resident for the past 12 years of his life, Professor Muller – who died on Thursday September 5 at the age of 88 – was uniquely skilled in conflict and negotiation skills.

Although the man remembered is more than his CV – he did leave an impressive one. He was founding head of the department of industrial and organisational psychology at the University of Port Elizabeth from 1966 to 1974.

He was first professor of educational technology and head of the technology unit at the University of Witwatersrand.

He was the founding head and professor of the department of industrial psychology and the dean of the faculty of economic sciences at UWC, 1983 to 1986.

While at UCT, he was the senior consultant (for 21 years) for the Abe Bailey Institute for Interracial Studies at UCT (later renamed the Centre for Conflict Resolution, or CCR). This was the first group to visit the ANC in exile in Lusaka.

In 1970 he was awarded the Shell Bursary for the study of the education and training in the social sciences, during which he undertook studies in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Canada and America.

His wife of 22 years, Dr Beverley Roos-Muller, described him as a noted academic locally and internationally, but more importantly as one of the co-founders of the Centre for Conflict Resolution and Mediation in SA, on the national Peace Committee during the transition to democracy, and a long-time opponent of apartheid.

“This had consequences for
his career but he stuck to it,” she said.

His late father-in-law was the great Afrikaans poet NP Van Wyk Louw, whom he met in Amsterdam in the mid 1950s while on a doctoral scholarship.

Dr Muller went on to marry Ria, the poet’s eldest daughter, who died young, leaving him with three small children.

Dr Muller was also a broadcaster all his life, most recently with Fine Music Radio (FMR), although he began his working life as a radio and stage actor with the old SABC.

“He was a fine baritone singer and lover of music, knowledgeable about literature – he wrote and broadcast about books for decades across all the media and language platforms, and he fluently spoke five languages, as well as learning Xhosa in his later years,” Dr Roos-Muller said of her husband.

She said they had long planned a book on Van Wyk Louw, and this is to be published in the first half of next year, to commemorate the poet’s 50th anniversary of his death in 1970.

“There are more than 45 contributions from some of the greatest writers, poets, artists, musicians and academics, as well as family members, including Nobel Laureate JM Coetzee, the late Adam Small, Richard van der Ross and Karel Schoeman, the international artist Marlene Dumas and Antjie Krog, Koos Kombuis and so many others,” she said.

“Although he was too ill with cancer last year to complete the book with me, he was able to know what was happening as I completed it for him, a labour of love as
I am originally from an Irish family so it was a daunting task,” she said.

Dr Roos-Muller said the three years she had spent at an Afrikaans boarding school had, in retrospect, been one of the luckiest things that had ever happened to her, given the enormity of the task.

She said her husband had been a colourful, charismatic and cheerful man.

“He was one of nature’s gentlemen, and it was my great good fortune to spend 22 very happy years with him – we met through both working at FMR101.3,” she said.

Dr Ampie Muller leaves behind his wife, seven children, grandchildren and his brother, Dr Piet Muller of Pretoria.