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Commonwealth loses rising South African star

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Vivienne Japha, president of the South African Institute of Architects, was killed in a traffic accident at the uia Congress in Beijing on 26 June, writes George Henderson. Japha had gone to China to attend a Commonwealth Association of Architects (caa) meeting, as well as the uia Congress. At the completion of these meetings, she was crossing a busy road with six Commonwealth friends when she was struck by a large truck. She didn't regain conciousness after the impact and died in hospital an hour-and- a-half later.

Japha was well respected in the professional and educational circles of South Africa where she held a number of prominent positions. She was becoming known more widely outside South Africa through her work with the caa and the African Union of Architects (aua). She fought hard for disadvantaged sections of society, during and after the apartheid regime. She was in the process of raising funds for young black architectural students to enable them to continue their studies beyond their first year - she had been arguing their case on the day of the accident.

Everyone that knew her speaks of her warmth and generosity. She was a distinguished architect and academic who carried her learning lightly. Her infectious giggle and ready smile made her instantly approachable and one of the most charming of colleagues. Anyone who didn't know her and witnessed one of the laughing fits (over the simplest of life's comical situations) could be forgiven for not guessing that she was an associate professor at the University of Cape Town School of Architecture and Planning as well as president of the saia, vice-president Africa (South) of the caa and a principal of Japha Architects and Todeschini Architects (with her husband Derek).

I was with Vivienne crossing the road when she was killed. We were making our way to a restaurant to celebrate the re-admission of the South African Institute of Architects into uia following its expulsion during the apartheid years, something she had negotiated the previous day.

Japha had a distinguished career, serving her profession on numerous bodies and in many spheres. She lectured widely, authored many publications and received several awards including the Cape Times Centenary Medal for her work in architectural conservation. She achieved a great deal in her 55 years and was tipped to become the first female president of the caa. She was effective and likeable; her loss will be considerable.

She leaves her husband Derek, dean of the faculty of fine art and architecture at the University of Cape Town, and her son Jonathan.

Professor George Henderson is President of the Commonwealth Association of Architects

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