A childhood friend is writing a lovely book on his mountaineering exploits and the journey he has made from climbing the mountain outside our town to climbing bigger and more famous mountains all over the world!!
Flatteringly, he asked me and a Pommy work and climber friend to proofread his latest draft. Being a techno-boff, he soon hooked us up on dropbox where we could read and comment and suggest.
I immediately launched in to making sensible and well-thought out recommendations. But some of them were instantly rejected, side-stepped or ignored, I dunno WHY!!
Like the title I thought could be spiced up. Three African Peaks is all very well. But it’s boring compared to Free A-frickin’ Picks!!! to lend drama and a Seffrican accent to it, right?! I know, you can’t understand some people. !
John, very much under the weight of a monarchy – meaning one has to behave – was more formal:
‘What is it with south africans and the “!”? (which is my major comment on your writing style!)
Well!!! Once we had puffed down and soothed our egos by rubbing some Mrs Balls Chutney on it, the back-n-forth started. I mean started!!
My defensive gambit was: ‘We’re drama queens!!’
My attacking gambit was an accusation: ‘Poms hugely under-use the ! In fact, they neglect it terribly! John was quickly back though, wielding his quill like a rapier:
‘Not true. We use our national quota. We just give almost all of them to teenage girls.’
I was on the back foot. When it came to the cover, the Boer War re-enactment resumed. I mean resumed!! I chose a lovely cover with an African mountain and a lot of greenery on the slopes. The Pom chose an ice wall, no doubt thinking of the London market. Stalemate.
Next thing he’ll be suggesting a stiff upper cover.
A strange thing has happened since John’s critique! I am using less exclamation marks! I have even written sentences without any!! It actually feels quite good. The new, restrained me.
I canoed the Vrystaat Vlaktes thanks to Charles Ryder, who arrived in Harrismith in about 1968 or ’69 I’d guess, to start his electrical business, a rooinek from Natal. He roared into town in a light green Volvo 122S with a long white fibreglass thing on top of it like this:
I asked: What’s that? It’s a canoe What’s a canoe? You do the Dusi in it What’s the Dusi?
Well, Charlie now knew he was deep behind the boerewors curtain! He patiently made me wiser and got me going and I got really excited the more I learned. I decided I just HAD TO do the Dusi. What could be more exciting than paddling your own canoe 120km over three days from Pietermaritzburg to the sparkling blue Indian Ocean at the Blue Lagoon in Durban? Charlie made it sound like the best, most adventurous thing you could possibly think of. He showed me how to paddle (how was I to know at the time he was making me a ‘Left Feather’?) and was so generous with his time. Both in paddling and with Harrismith’s first Boy Scouts troop, which he helped establish.
I started running in the mornings with a gang of friends. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, Leon Blignaut, who else? We called ourselves the mossies as we got up at sparrow’s fart. Then I would cycle about two miles to the park in the afternoons and paddle on the flat water of the mighty Vulgar River in Charles’ Limfjorden, or Limfy, canoe, which he had kindly lent me/given to me. It was the fittest I’ve ever been, before or since.
Overnight I would leave it on the bank tethered to a weeping willow down there. One day around Christmas time with only a couple of weeks to go before Dusi I got there and it was missing. I searched high and low, to no avail. So I missed doing the Dusi. Not that I had done anything but train for it – I hadn’t entered, didn’t know where to, didn’t belong to a club, didn’t have a lift to the race, no seconds, nothing!
Still enthused, though, I persuaded my mate Jean Roux to join me in hitch-hiking to the race. We were going to do the Duzi! All except the part where you used a boat.
We got to Pietermaritzburg, and early the next morning to the start in Alexander Park. Milling around among the competitors and their helpers, we watched the start and as the last boats paddled off downstream Alxendra Park started emptying, everyone seemed in a big hurry to leave. We asked Wassup? and someone said, We’re Following Our Paddler! so we bummed a lift with some paddler’s seconds to the overnight stop at Dusi Bridge. We slept under the stars and cadged supper from all those friendly people. They let us continue with them the next day to the second overnight stop at Dip Tank and on the third and last day to the sea, the estuary at Blue Lagoon, following the race along the way.
I continued the search for my missing Limfy after we got back from watching the Dusi and eventually found a bottle floating in the Kakspruit, a little tributary that flows down from Platberg and enters the river downstream of the weir. It had a string attached to it. I pulled that up and slowly raised the boat – now painted black and blue, but clearly identifiable as I had completely rebuilt it after breaking it in half in a rapid in the valley between Swinburne and Harrismith. Come to remember, that’s why Charles gave it to me! I knew every inch of that boat: the kink in the repaired hull, the repaired cockpit, the wooden gunwales, brass screws, shaped wooden cross members, long wooden stringer, shaped wooden uprights from the cross members vertically up to the stringer, the white nylon deck, genkem glue to stick the deck onto the hull before screwing on the gunwales, the brass carrying handles, aluminium rudder and mechanism, steel cables, the lot. In great detail.
Except! I recently (2020) cleared out my garage under lockdown and discovered this: My notes preparing for the Duzi! I was less disorganised than I remember. I may not have DONE, but at least I did do a bit of planning! Check “Phone Mr Pearce” and “Buy canoe?” – uh, maybe not so very well organised!
(re-posting an edited version of an excerpt from a previous post)
1976 Duzi – In 1976 I entered the race and convinced a newly arrived student at res in Doornfontein, Joburg, Louis van Reenen, to join me.
(BTW: ‘The Duzi’ or ‘Dusi’ is the Duzi Canoe Marathon, a 120km downstream river race from Pietermaritzburg to the sea in Durban, in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next year should see the 70th annual running of this crazy biathlon, COVID-permitting).
Like I had asked Charlie Ryder about six years earlier, Louis had asked me, ‘What’s that?’ when he saw my Limfy on my grey and grey 1965 Opel Concorde in Doornfontein, and ‘What’s that?’ when I said ‘The Dusi,’ so he was ripe for convincing. Or brainwashing? Soon afterwards he bought a red Hai white-water boat with a ‘closed’ (smaller) cockpit from Neville Truran and paddled it once or twice on Emmerentia Dam. In those days that could sort-of qualify you for Dusi!
Then he loaded it up on his light blue VW Beetle and drove down from Jo’burg to meet me in Harrismith. Only one of us could paddle, the other had to drive as the ‘second’ or supporter, taking food and kit to the overnight stops. So we tossed a coin. I lost, and so we headed for Alexandra Park in PMB with the red Hai on the roofrack. A great pity for me, as I had done a lot of canoeing, also in flood-level rivers, and had broken two boats in half and repaired one, getting it going again in time for the 1972 Dusi. But – a coin toss is a coin toss.
For Louis, the coin toss won him a first-ever trip down a river. And what a river! Here’s how two-times Duzi winner Charles Mason described it. I have paraphrased an excerpt from his upcoming book:
Charles: The 1976 Duzi was arguably the fullest level ever. The record 420 starters on the first day on the uMsunduzi River were greeted with a very full river, resulting in many casualties. That night the Kingfisher marquee was abuzz with speculation regarding the river conditions for the next two days on the much larger Umgeni.
Our first day’s paddle on the much smaller and narrower Duzi River had been enjoyable and exhilarating. I remember being told many years before that the word ‘uMsunduzi’ is isiZulu for ‘the one that pushes and travels very fast when in flood.’ It had really been pushing that day.
I was relaxing in a corner of the Kingfisher marquee, listening to the excited banter and anxious anticipation of the largely novice competitors in the tent, regarding the prospects for the next day’s paddle. Few of them had experienced such conditions previously.
Blissfully unaware, utter novices Louis and I were in my little orange pup tent nearby.
Charles: Around 9pm race organiser and ‘Duzi Boss’ Ernie Pearce came to see me:- Ernie said: “I have just had a visit from the engineer at Nagle Dam. He came to warn us that they have opened all the sluices of the dam to reduce water levels in preparation for a massive plug of flood water making it’s way down the Umgeni. The river will be in full flood below the dam by tomorrow morning!”
Very early the next morning, Charles went to inspect the river downstream for Ernie and then reported back to anxiously-waiting paddlers and officials: “The Umgeni is pumping – it’s bloody big – and I am wearing a life jacket!” Life jackets were optional in those days and in any event, very few paddlers possessed them. I overheard one paddler remarking, “That’s enough for me.” He left to tie his boat onto his car. A few others followed suit.The second and third days were big and exciting and Tank and I managed a sixth place finish.
Louis van Reenen, Duzi novice, first time ever on a river, paddled – and swam – and portaged – and carried on.
A lot of portaging was done to avoid the big water. Better choice of craft would have had guys paddling way more, but very few guys paddled rudderless short and stable ‘playboats’ those days.
New watercourses and new islands opened up:
The weather cleared up enough for the welcome newspaper drop by Frank Smith in his light plane:
Us seconds and supporters were kept busy rescuing cars stuck in the mud, including our own Volksie. We’d all be stopped in a long line; We’d get out, walk to the front, push the front car, push the next car, and so on.
Never-say-Die Louis got to Durban, to the Blue Lagoon, to the salty water of a high-tide Indian Ocean. Hours before him Graeme Pope-Ellis had equalled the best, winning his fifth Duzi, paddling with Pete Peacock.
That night we slept right there at Blue Lagoon, at the finish. Here’s a composite pic of Louis with his Hai and paddle, and me at the driver’s door of the pale blue Volksie:
Seven years later I FINALLY got round to doing my first Duzi. Sitting in my boat at Alexandra Park in Pietermaritzburg waiting for the starter’s gun, I thought I saw a familiar face and paddled over. Louis! It IS you! He had come back seven years later to do his second Duzi! Never-say-Die!
That 1983 Duzi was the opposite of his first. A low river, lots of portaging because of NO water, not because of high water!
So I retired from golf. Hung up my plus fours, put my spectacles back on. They’re minus four. Optometrists will understand. The reason I retired was I had reached a pinnacle. I had tired of listening to golfers’ bulldust, cos although I was a golfer, I wasn’t one of the boring tedious kind who play every week and sometimes more often. No, I would play occasionally and then very well. Usually with borrowed clubs and the shoes I was wearing. None of this changing shoes n shit. My forte was the so-called halfway house and the pub afterwards.
After listening for years and decades and it seems centuries to the blah blah from one Brauer about scratch something and then a pearler and it faded, bounced once and rolled onto the green and blah blah I decided something had to be done. He had to be silenced.
I challenged him to a showdown. Winner takes all. Sudden death. Strict rules (listed below for evidence). Being generous and not wanting any arguments or excuses I decided we’d play on his home ground, a course he’d played hundreds, if not thousands of times and knew like the back of his head. San Lameer, aka Dutchman’s Paradise. Often spoken of as a ‘challenging course.’ I used to yawn when they said that, but I’d cover my mouth politely with the back of my hand, which I knew well.
So the day dawns, the first tee looms and the first hole ends. Brauer shot 3 or 4 and I got about fifteen. The second hole Brauer shot 3 or 4 and I carded an improved fourteen. On the third hole Brauer shot 3 or 4 (see what I mean about blah blah boring, right?) and I loomed ominously with a massively sharper eleven. I will confess that we’re not counting the moooligans I got from the hoooligan, and there might have been a few ladies tees, but read the rules.
Come the fourth hole. A short hole. Not really my kind of hole as my vast improvement so far had come about cos of my technique, which was to hit the ball harder, followed by much harder. So I chose one of the skewer implements and wound up, warming up while Brauer very boringly hit a somnolent gentle shot which landed on the smooth area near the flag. He grinned. Fatal mistake. I decided to tee the ball up much higher than usual and take a running attack approach. Unfortunately my foot slipped and I smashed the heavy end of the implement into the ground, knocking out some lawn which hit the ball and sent it off at 45 degrees, but fast. I picked myself off the ground in time to see it hit a tree and head for the same smooth area where Brauer’s ball was smugly and boringly lurking. It crept onto the smooth and stopped. He was very lucky. He almost lost there and then – read the rules.
So we’re both there for one. Legitimately. No free tee shot, no moooligans. Dead square, as though I was a scratch golfer, which I always felt like. Brauer asked me to smash my ball first, making out like he was being a gentleman, but it was my right. It was my turn. Read the other rules. I chose a smaller klap this time with a flatter heavy end and strode determinedly to where my ball was cowering, grinning at me from ear to ear, rubber bands showing. I was on a roll! It is true that I rolled, losing my footing and mishitting my planned shot which ended up in the ball going down the hole at the bottom of the flag pole.
Brauer’s grin faded. His cocky demeanour melted. His windgat attitude shone up. His shoulders drooped. His tension rose. His moustache bristled. Picking myself up and dusting myself off, I grinned. Ha!
Talk about pressure! He started acting like a typical golfer, lining up the ball, walking to the flag, walking to the far opposite side, squatting, standing, all that kak, you know how they are. Finally he stepped up to the ball only to step away again and repeat the 5km walk and pantomime. Then he took a deep breath, stepped up to his ball, bent over looking like an old toppie and paused. Then stepped away again and walked round and round, brushing away imaginary specks of grass, eyeing with one eye, eyeing the another eye. I wondered if he was going to use a third eye when he finally, FINALLY, committed and poked at that ball like a wimp.
So whatta you think? Of course he missed the bladdy hole. He took so long the bladdy ball had probably forgotten how to roll.
Ever the gentleman, I keep my whooping and hollering and Nyah! Nyahs!! to an acceptable level and repaired the divots I made with my pole and shoes and hands when I did flik-flaks and put the flag back with which I had done a loud victory lap shouting Ha HA!! Ha HA!!
I walked straight back to the clubhouse. I had won! He wanted to play on! What for!? End of tournament. Read the rules.
So I retired from golf.
Rules for the Great Face-Off:
Handicaps count. Mine is 36, yours is scratch, I’m being ellen the generous.
If my drive fails to reach the ladies tee, I can have a free repeat, this time from the ladies tee.
Obviously ‘fresh airs’ don’t count! How do you know what I was thinking?
If I win anything, anything at all, I have won the day. If I win longest drive (no matter in which direction), I have won. Closest to the pin (regardless of how I got there), I have won. Ens. Never mind winning an actual hole! Then obviously I have won, I said beforehand. Presciently.
No correspondence will be entered into. No whinging unless I lose.
These rules may be amended on the course if needs be.
Postscript: I could never understand how they could write books on something as simple as golf, which can be described in one sentence; but I am thinking of writing a book on this little joust. I feel it will serve a good purpose in helping people retire from golf.
I was born up Shit Creek without a paddle. Quite literally. OK, my actual birth, per se, was in Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home, less than half a kilometer away on Kings Hill, but mere days after I was born – as soon as I could be wrapped in swaddling clothes – I was taken home to my manger on a plot on the banks of Shit Creek. And it was twelve years or so before I owned my first paddle. So this is a true story.
I paddled my own canoe about twelve years later after we lost the plot. OK, sold the plot, moved into town and bought a red and blue canoe with paddle. The first place we paddled it was in a little inlet off the Wilge river above the Sunnymede weir, some distance upstream of town. Right here:
Before this, I had paddled a home-made canoe made of a folded corrugated zinc roofing sheet, the ends nailed onto a four-by-four and sealed with pitch. Made by good school friend Gerie Hansen and his younger boet Nikolai – or maybe his older boet Hein; or by their carpenter father Jes? We paddled it, wobbling unsteadily, on their tiny little pond in the deep shade of wattle trees above their house up against the northern cliff of Kings Hill.
Good school friend Piet Steyl wrote of the wonderful days he also spent in the company of Gerie Hansen – who died tragically early. He told of fun days spent paddling that zinc canoe, gooi’ing kleilat, shooting the windbuks and smoking tea leaves next to that same little pond. We both remembered Gerie winning a caption contest in Scope magazine and getting reprimanded for suggesting Japanese quality wasn’t good. Irony was, the Hansens actually owned one of the first Japanese bakkies seen in town – a little HINO.
Gerie used to say ‘He No Go So Good’, and Piet says when it finally gave up the ghost he said ‘He No Go No More’!!
Shit Creek – actually the Kak Spruit; a tributary of the Wilge River which originates on Platberg mountain, flows down, past our old plot and westward through the golf course on the northern edge of town, then turns south and flows into the Wilge below the old park weir; Sensitive Harrismith people refer to it as ‘die spruit met die naam;’
die spruit met die naam – ‘the creek with the name’ – too coy! It’s Die Kakspruit; always will be. Shit Creek.
gooi’ing kleilat – lethal weapon; a lump of clay on the end of a whippy stick or lath; spoken about way more than practiced, in my experience; Here’s a kid loading one:
The old man bought an 8mm cine film Eumig camera and Eumig projector. Made in Austria. This was ca.1963, I’d guess. It once did a bit of – potentially – famous footage!
Later he bought a Canon SLR camera with a 50mm lens like this, and a 300mm telephoto lens. An FT QL like this one. He used Agfa slide film. Had to be Agfa, not Kodak! Agfa had ‘better greens and blues.’
We went on a trip down Normandien Pass to photograph Black Eagle chicks on their nest. I think Wally and Robbie Sharratt had told of them. Wonder where those pics are?
Once I heard Dad had been present when I won a 100m race at the town’s President Brand Park athletic track. I didn’t know he was there – found out later that he had been taking photos. At the finish, in my lunge for the tape, I fell and somersaulted, skidding on my back. I won or tied for first – not sure which, but one of the two. Never did see a photo of that finish – !?
Once – 1967 – he took a photo of the all-winning U/13 rugby team holding a trophy. We won all our games except one that year – a no-score draw against Bethlehem Voortrekker (we beat them later); and we beat a team from Virginia that had claimed in the Friend newspaper that they were Free State Champs – unbeaten, 140 points for and none against; we beat them 3-0, a De Wet dropkick; we also beat the representative Eastern Free State team 17-0 cos they only chose four of our guys for the team; and then we challenged and beat Bloemfontein’s Grey College U/13 8-3. Our fame had grown and grown throughout the season and the number of spectators grew with every win. Funny, some people will support a team; but many more will make an effort to witness winning! I know not what that trophy De Wet is holding was for? Still, there was one photo a father took of his son’s school sporting career!
First we went west from Oklahoma, to New Mexico. I went with the Manars in Tom’s luxury (I really should know what that car was) towing their blue Willys Jeep, quite a recent model. We drove to Red River, to Granma Merrill’s cottage in the valley south of town.
After a wonderful stay with a huge gang of the very best people, Jim n Katie Patterson took me and Dottie Moffett to Las Vegas from Red River, New Mexico in their silver-grey Ford LTD.
We drove via Colorado where we caught a steam train from Durango north to Silverton.
Then we drove through Utah, visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park:
In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. It boasted (natch) the ‘biggest neon sign in the world’! I learnt to gamble. I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were $10 down. We’d paid our dues and could go to bed.
Jim n Katie took us to a show! We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away – also Joan warbled a bit and Pet told a joke! I saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us good seats! We got great seats.
After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we were just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I just had to get down there. I started running down the Bright Angel trail. Dottie joined me; she was fit – Oklahoma’s number 2 tennis player! It’s about 10km to the river. I’d give us an hour to get down, I thought. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Every now and then we’d have to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass, sometimes with a steep drop inches away. We made sure we were always on the upside!
At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the Canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there was water, green shrubbery and even some tall trees.
In about an hour we got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of clear water flowing like that. Our South African rivers mostly run small and muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d been kayaking for a few years, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that eleven years later I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level brown river! *(see below)*
The hike back out was steep, but hey, we were 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!
Then we headed home by and large followed the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, back to Oklahoma. To Apache, and then Katie and I drove the delightful Dottie on to Ardmore.
I learned later:
They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre down you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of Glen Canyon Dam upstream;
Jim Patterson has since hiked rim to rim through the canyon a number of times – he made it an annual pilgrimage. The last I heard was when he was 70!
Footnote – Eleven years later, in ’84, I arrived under that bridge in my kayak:
The level was high, and the Little Colorado poured brown floodwaters into the Colorado, so the water wasn’t running clear.
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.
I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.
Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:
The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!
I recently found some old papers which told me I once ran the race in 79 mins and in 85 minutes another year.
We also walked the race for fun a couple times:
The 12km distance was enough. But no, some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb when I ran with Jon and Dizzi Taylor one year.
Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.
Some history from friend Ettienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:
The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (I once spent a wonderful day with Wally).
It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.
The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.
During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top. In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds – from town to the top of the mountain! Amazingly quick).
The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.
Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, JN ‘Koos’ de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.
Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.
Sometimes Umzinto would get kinda desperate, and after casting around far and wide would eventually consult telephonically: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Fraid so. ‘OK, well then if there really is no-one else, ask your mate Swanepoel.’
So Glen Barker would say ‘Pete, can you play for us again this Sunday?’ And I’d always say Sure thing! cos . . LUNCH! The ladies of Umzinto and district and the staff of the Umzinto country club knew how to make lunch, and for a bachelor with buggerall to do that Sunday anyway, whattapleasure.
So I’d borrow white trousers, wear a white work shirt and drive south down the notorious South Coast, full of rokers, weed smokers, fishermen, retired Vaalies and dodgy farmers; and do sterling service for the 100yr-old august olde Umzinto Cricket Club. The usual: I’d get a duck in the morning, drop a few catches in the afternoon and enjoy a very good lunch with a few beers in-between. It was Win-Win-Win all round. Everybody was a winner: Me, the Umzinto team, and the opposition.
FINALLY clearing out some more boxes from the garage. It’s nine years since Trish died, fifteen years since we moved here, and some of the boxes haven’t been opened since even before that.
And I was to find out some haven’t even been opened since LONG before that! Like this one:
This was a bachelor box! That typed letter was the school newsletter – no, the school newspaper! – from 1971. A previous school newspaper ‘Die Kanêrie’ had existed. In our time was it edited by Francois Rope Marais. It died, like all good canaries. In matric Jean Roux and I decided to revive it, but we wanted a new name. We were in a big Beatles phase, so its new name was Let It Be.
Racy scandal, very much tongue-in-cheek, we were determined to be irreverent. The mielie cob was our emblem, the paper was a member of the ‘mielie groep,’ and although this issue of 19 February 1971 was the first and probably the only issue, we made sure to put “Established 1971” in the banner to give it an air of gravitas. You never knew, maybe it would start a publishing empire? I mean, it would have been celebrating the 50th year of its existence next year had it gone on a few issues.
Memories of the ‘roneo machine’ – you typed on blue wax paper, then you drew your pictures or wrote your headings in freehand with a metal stylus; then you carefully put your precious waxpaper koerant into the roneo machine. The ink ran into all depressions in the wax – hammered by the typewriters and tikmasjiene in Ou Rot se klas, or scratched by hand. We used typewriters for the Engelse stories and tikmasjiene for the Afrikaans stories. Then you turned something manually, and out came copies of what you’d done – reproduced by the magic machine. Any mistakes were permanent. And there were a number! Jean wrote the Pop Music Column ‘On The Knob With Roux.’ He was from a metropolis much larger than Herriesmif – Bloemfindyn, I think? – so more up-to-date with his music.
Someone wrote to the paper – an anonymous Letter To The Editor! It was a whinge. Someone had been applauding too enthusiastically at a debate contest! Gasp! They were applauding and stamping their feet! Instead of only giving contestants ‘their rightful applause!’ There was some question as to the character of someone who would let themselves go like that! Like Victoria, Nik and Nak were not amused. Well! There you go.
One article confidently announced we’d soon go international (it didn’t say that all that meant was we had asked the previous year’s USA exchange student to write to us).
We – the Std 9’s were also announcing a ‘Ritmiese Ete’ at the country club where one would get a full supper and music by the vdLinde Trio – at R2 a head – to raise funds for the Matric Farewell.
Military news of past-pupils was: Sparrow was in the lugmagkoor – and was even chosen as a ‘solios‘ – or so we said. Pierre was off to Bloem as a parabat. Steph was off to Walvis Bay.
A ‘kringleierskamp’ was held on Clawervlei, Casper Badenhorst’s farm, led by ds Venter, ds Smit, Eben Louw and Giel du Toit. ‘Besprekings’ of about an hour were held morning, afternoon and evening. The weekend ended on Sunday with a church service and a group photo.
Evidence of the rooinekkery of this koerant was a report on the dorp’s new Boy Scout troop: We had done swimming badges under the watchful eye of Cyril Nocton at Ralph Morton’s pool. Also a report on the Methodist Guild, who held a braai in which ‘all the members’ arrived dressed as tramps.
Some blerrie Eland – signing himself Phomolong – wrote the athletic day report and crowed about the Kudus winning, them second and us, the Impalas coming our usual third out of three – to which he said foei! Blurry hell! He would eat his words one year later when we, the Impalas, swept the boards! De Wet Ras broke the twenty-year-old pole vault record. At least he was an Impala.
A long report on a debate – the ontgroeningsdebat – is a bit faint to follow easily. Seems the debate decided history should not be a compulsory school subject. Ha! ‘Jammer Mnr Stander,’ said the reporter to the history teacher!
Costa Georgiou and Erika du Plessis were chosen as Mr and Miss Standard Six.
Fluffy Crawley wrote an article on Town Cricket, asking for players to join him in strengthening a sport which had been waning and was now being rebuilt. Forthcoming matches were against Old Scholars (Bethlehem?) and Frankfort. He also gave a report on a drawn match against Bethlehem Defence in which they scored 95; We managed to drag out our innings for two hours, forcing a draw; De Wet scored 25, Fluffy scored 14 and Dave Davies hung in to score 5 and achieve the draw. Our best bowler was De Wet, 6 for 25! Fluffy never gave up on cricket – he remained involved with Free State cricket for decades!
Tuffy Joubert was the swimming reporter, announcing the team going to Mazelspoort. Boys: Leon Blignaut, J Nel, Steve de Villiers and himself; Girls: Sonja du Plessis, Sheila Swanepoel, Jenny de Villiers, Marita Badenhorst, R vd Merwe (? Ilse?), J Eksteen and L Ros(?Lulu Ras?). Sonja duP was chosen for the OFS team and went on to win bronze in the 100m freestyle girls under fourteen at a national gala.
Under the commercial section there was one advertisement: A 15ft fibreglass canoe for sale by one P. Swanepoel. It would have been blue with a red deck.
mielie groep – maize or corn future publishing empire; ‘jou mielie’ was a popular insult at the time; it had . . connotations; hey! sixteen year old testosterone
on the knob – DJ’s twiddled knobs, and . . connotations
koerant – newspaper
tikmasjien – typewriter
Ou Rot se klas – the typing teacher’s nickname was Rat; pointy nose, bristly moustache, dodgy reputation with the ladies
Ritmiese Ete – rhythmic dinner – grub and dance fundraiser
lugmagkoor – airforce choir
kringleierskamp – ringleaders camp
besprekings – discussions
foei! – shame! or ag shame!
ontgroeningsdebat – initiation debate for Std Sixes, just entering high school
Careful readers would have seen a promise for this promising newspaper to go INTERNATIONAL! Well, I’m not sure we even made a second edition, but we DID receive the promised input from afar: from New York. Note the formal address: Die Redakteur, Laat Dit Wees / Let It Be!! I don’t know why he put our name in inverted commas? Would he have written “New York Times” – ? I must speak to him!