R.I.P Steph

I can’t believe it. Steph. Died in a car accident today. Near Frankfort.

I’ll write later.

Here’s how we’ll always remember you, Steph. Us who knew you in the 60’s and 1970 – your matric year.

The fab five strikes! Late at night in Harrismith. Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture
– the fab five strikes! Pierre, Larry, Steph, Koos; Tuffy must have taken the picture –
– Larry & Steph collapsing – Pierre and me keeping an eye out for the gendarmes –
– Omar Sharif looking stoic –

His more recent friends and family remember him like this: Mad keen fisherman, yachtsman, can-do builder, taker-on of major projects. Big-hearted friend, builder of schools for underprivileged people, generous to a fault, though he would dispute the ‘fault’ part.

Steph funeral 5

Later: JP, his boet, his family, his workers and his colleagues put on an amazing memorial service and wake for Steph at The Pines this Saturday. Entertained and feted us royally. His daughter tells me he has seen to it that each of them are set up with something to do to keep going.  ‘Kom ons organise dit,’ was his saying. There were grandkids running around and the day was just as if he had organised it himself. It typified Steph de Witt, as it was Generous and Inclusive. The family did him proud.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I have written about our schooldays here:

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/raiders-of-the-lost-saab/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/chariots-of-beer/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/woken-by-the-tamboekie/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/an-old-mystery-whose-fault/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/the-night-we-hijacked- the-orange-express/

https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again/

~~~oo0oo~~~

Also:

We were a gang of five that came of age together. Really fun days. Beer, wit, song, wisdom, ‘borrowed’ cars, adventures and escapades *  and um, extra homework (some of these things may be disputed by some) . . . Pierre du Plessis and Steph and Larry Wingert, our American Rotary exchange student, were 1970 matrics, me and Tuffy Joubert were 1972 matrics. I phoned Larry in Ohio to let him know the sad news last night.

One of the things I am most grateful for (I’m in awe, really) and I try hard to apply some of it in a balanced way to my Jess & Tom, is just how tolerant and patient our 1960’s and ’70’s Vrystaat parents were! I’m sure Steph’s Mom Alet and my Mom Mary, Pierre’s Mom Joan, Tuffy’s Mom Joyce often knew we were out and about but they would just check we were OK in the morning. ** Larry’s Mom would have been blissfully unaware of her son’s shenanigans in Africa!

Steph’s Dad the legendary Koos de Witt died when Steph was in Std 6. He was a prominent builder: Built many Much Deformed churches all over SA. Steph did civil engineering at varsity then started building. Made and lost fortunes. Owned a huge ocean-going catamaran, house in Cape Town, ‘cottage’ in Kommetjie, game farm in Limpopo. Then he was back – bought the biggest stone house in Kestell while he had big contracts to build roads and a shopping centre in Qwa Qwa. I looked him up there on our way to Lesotho once. He was driving a huge imported Ford F250 pickup truck. When I told him which road we were taking into Lesotho in my kombi he said “You can’t go that way, Koos! I built the road to the border and that’s fine, but after that you’ll never make it!” Well, we did, but Aitch veto’d that route thereafter.

He always kept The Pines – or Shady Pines – their big old house in Harrismith and ran it as a B&B. He wanted to start a museum and had bought and restored his Dad’s big old Dodge and his Mom’s old Karmann Ghia.

Next month Steph was going to take another exchange student from my year who they hosted to his game farm – Greg Seibert’s first visit back to SA since 1972. We’ll have to fill in that part of his itinerary.

His year had their 45th matric reunion last week. Older sister Barbara was in his class and was involved in organising it. But Steph didn’t go. Getting together with the hele klas wasn’t his style. A few beers with the boys would have done it. Although: For their 40th reunion he and Pierre organised, hosted and paid for the whole thing. Wouldn’t take any money from the rest of the class! Generous people. His funeral was organised by his brother JP, his kids and his wife and ex-wife just as he’d have wanted it. All his workers invited, all his friends and more. LOTS of food and drink and lasting the whole day. At The Pines.

Now he’s gone. Well, none of us would have predicted Steph dying of old age in bed, that’s for sure. But this soon? No, no, no!

Our last reunion was in 1996 when Larry visited from Ohio:

Larry Visits from Ohio (4)
– Pierre, Francois, Koos, Steph, Tuffy, Larry –

*I told you how we stood innocently in assembly while the headmaster promised threateningly that he would catch the blighters who had left tyre-mark donuts on the netball courts – “Ons sal hulle vang!” – and we thought, “No you won’t”.

** The other day I was about to growl “Turn down that noise!” to Tom when I thought to myself I don’t remember my folks ever doing that to my full-blast Jethro Tull or Led Zeppelin! Amazing!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Pierre at Steph’s funeral:

Pierre at Shady Pines

Shady Pines

Shady Pines de Witt

I pulled over to catch this moonrise over Bobbejaanskop, Platberg as I left Harrismith that sad and joyful day:

The moon rising as I left to go back to Durbs

“The great pleasure in a schoolboy’s life is doing what people say he cannot – may not – do.”

paraphrasing Walter Bagehot, British journalist, businessman, and essayist

“Education is the sum of what students teach each other between lectures and seminars.” ― Stephen Fry

We learnt good.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Raiders of the Lost Saab

The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.

Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. Black Label. It’s 5.5% so better value than Castle 5%. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged. He’s focused. He knows the object is to get that stuff circulating in the brain soonest, to provide fun and courage and laughter.

– the occupants – Pierre, me, Steph, Tuffy, inset Larry –

When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!

– Saab engine and corobrick spanner –

After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!

The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.

Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.

Tuffy tackles an ox en-route

Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat. We didn’t know it yet, but he was practicing to be a parabat and a recce.

Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage ‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee.’ His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.

As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible. Oom Hertzog van Wyk probably had a good chuckle as he heaved his car off the sacks, we felt sure.

~~oo0oo~~

Larry left for home – Cobleskill, in upstate New York – soon after, missing the school photo session. We sent him this: Pierre, matric; me, Std 8; Steph, matric; Tuffy, Std 9

.

– a picture of innocence –
– as can be clearly seen here, I should have been driving – I’m the only one here who’d had his eyes tested –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Vrede – peace; the name of a town; dorp, really; misnomer

dorp – village; hamlet; no metropolis

Groot Klip Kerk – see the action picture of us drifting; It’s the building in the background;

middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;

domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;

hoofseun – head boy;

Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;

grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;

parabat – parachute battalion; mal ous; jump out of aeroplanes

recce – recconaissance battalion; mal ous; jump out of helicopters

‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee’ – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you? Moms always know what’s happening

Mielies – maize, corn;

drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;

~~~oo0oo~~~

Update: R.I.P – Jan van Wyk died in a car accident ca.2010. Shit.

Update again: R.I.P – Steph de Witt died in a car accident 2015. Shit.

Rugby Free State u/13 Champs

It was quite a year. I had shot up, my balls had dropped, and I became the tallest blonde in the team. Coenie Meyer was the only other one, but he was a stocky centre and I was a lanky lock in the serious half of the team, the half that did the hard work and won the ball – only for the frivolous half to donate it to the opposition, starting the whole process all over again! Us bum-sniffers suffered while the pretty-boy backs got all the glory. Before this hormonal reshuffling, rugby had not been I.

But truth be told, our real strength lay in an outstanding flyhalf called De Wet Ras; and in great teamwork, determined tackling and a fierce desire to do well by ‘Sir’ – as we called Bruce Humphries, our tennis-playing coach.

We were coached by a bespectacled tennis champ called Bruce who inspired us to give our all. His sidekick Ben backed him up and supported us – a kind soul was Ben Marais. We beat all-comers and moved on to play against bigger teams. We drew one game against Bethlehem Voortrekker 0-0, our ‘winning’ De Wet Ras drop kick sailing high directly above the right upright, so the ref did not award it. We beat them 8-3 in a re-match.

We were the Harrismith under thirteen team of 1967, playing in bright orange, looking for all the world like mangoes complete with little green leaves on top and some black spots below!

HarrismithU13Rugby cropped_2.jpg

At the end of the season we were unbeaten and happy.

But then we read in the newspaper, the Engelse koerant, The Friend of Bloemfontein:

Free State u/13 Champs: 140 points for and 0 against!

And they weren’t talking about us – it was an u/13 team from Virginia. We thought: Free State Champs? Like Hell! We also thought: Where the hell is Virginia? That doesn’t sound like an egte Free State dorp.

Bruce Humphries phoned them and challenged them to come and play us. ‘No, we’re Free State Champs,’ they said, ‘Can’t you read? You’ll have to come to us!’

Off we went to Virginia in Bruce’s new 1966 white Ford Cortina and Giel du Toit’s tweede-hands black Mercedes 190 – about 1959, and Ben Marais’ blue VW Beetle, undetermined vintage.

Cars Harrismith_2

There we watched their second team play Saaiplaas, a little mining village team with an egte Free State dorp name. We cheered Saaiplaas on and exhorted them to victory! I can still hear our hooker Skottie Meyer shouting mockingly – he was full of nonsense like that, onse Skottie – “Thlaaiplaath!! Thlaiplaath!!” They beat the Virginia seconds 3-0, handing them their first defeat of the season.

Our turn next, and the Saaiplaas boys did their best to be heard above the din of the enthusiastic local Virginia supporters. It was a tight match but we had the edge, our left wing Krugertjie being stopped inches from the left corner flag and our right wing Krugertjie pulled down inches from the right corner flag. Yep, identical twins, find them in the pic. The difference at the final whistle was a De Wet Ras drop goal from near the halfway line. 3-0 to us to complete a bad day for ex-Free State Champs Virginia. Which they pronounced Fuh-Jean-Yah.

What’s Next?
Now Bruce Humphries had the Free State’s biggest fish in his sights: Grey College Bloemfontein. No, they didn’t really think they’d want to play us, thank you; and anyway they were off on a tour to Natal that week, thank  you. ‘Well’, said Bruce ‘You can’t get back from Natal without passing through Harrismith, and you wouldn’t really sneak past us with your tails between your legs, would you?’

So the game was on! That day the pawiljoen at the park was packed with our enthusiastic supporters and cars ringed the field. Our followers’ numbers had grown as the season progressed and excitement at our unbeaten tag increased. No Grey College team had ever played in this little outpost of the British Empire (yes, we were that, once!) before.

Another tough game ensued, but a try just left of the posts by the tallest blonde in our team was the difference: We beat them 8-3, all the other points being scored by our points machine and tactical general De Wet! Die Dapper Generaal De Wet!

What a year!

see: Not that Generaal De Wet.

Beating the Rest
When it came to selecting an Eastern Free State team, the other schools introduced a twist: Not only did you have to be under thirteen, you also had to be in primary school! This excluded a few of our boys, who were in Std 6 (Grade 8). Only four of our team were chosen. So we challenged them to a game. Bruce told them it would do them good to have a warm-up game against the rest of us before they went to the capital of the province, Bloemfontein, to play in a tournament. Having been chosen as reserve, I was lucky: I could still play for ‘us’! Plus we ‘innocently’ added Gabba Coetzee to boost our depleted team – with their knowledge and permission. He was in Std 6 and just too old to actually be under thirteen. He was a legendary machine of an eighth man! An Iron Man, actually. His shot put record stands to this day, nearly fifty years later.

Ho Hum! 17-0

—————————–

On the LEFT: Bruce Humphries (coach); On the RIGHT: Ben Marais (assistant coach)

All Heads Left to Right: Dana Moore, Attie Labuschagne, Leon Fluffy Crawley, De Wet Ras, Redge Jelliman, Skottie Meyer, Hendrik Conradie, Hansie Jooste, Irené Tuffy Joubert, Coenie Meyer, Peter Koos Swanepoel, Kruger, Kobus Odendaal, Kruger, Max Wessels

– I wonder what that trophy is that De Wet is holding? I cannot remember what that trophy might have been for.  ‘Handsome Vrystaters Floating-on-Air’ Trophy maybe?

.

We got word that Bruce Humphries passed away in about 2011. 
Go Well Sir!  We'll never forget that 1967 rugby season. We soared high and grew our self-esteem that year. Thank you!

~~~oo0oo~~~

An Old Mystery: Whose fault?

There were two reasons we ‘borrowed’ Gerrie’s 1961 black Saab 93 late one night: (1). If you don’t give a car a run the battery can go flat, and (2). We had Larry the American Rotary Exchange student with us, who might have heard that the Free State can be a very boring place with “nothing to do”. Especially at night. And also (3). A moving car is a safe place to drink beer in. These are facts.

Quietly wheeling it down the driveway we held our breath until we’d pushed it far enough, then quickly started it and we were OFF! Freedom! Beer! Speed! Steph was multi-tasking, driving and handing out the ‘longtom’ cans of Black Label beer his family’s obliging gardener had bought for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales. My folks lost the sale because of their silly and pedantic “over-18’s” policy.

Tuffy always finished his before we hit third gear . . .

A quick routine stop to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose, and we headed for new terrain.

We had already done the town athletic track and the school netball fields on other occasions, leaving our trademark donuts and figure-of-eights in the gravel.* This time our destination was the National Botanic Gardens on top of Queen’s Hill, stopping only once more to tap the fuel pump with the half-brick kept under the bonnet for just that purpose.

In the dark we met Kolhaas Lindstrom in his car. He was legit: He’d already left school and was a licenced driver. “Dice?” he challenged, and the game was on! Whizzing through the veld Rring-ding-ding-ding-RRriiing! It’s a two-stroke, remember?

Don’t believe the Minister of Transport, speed doesn’t kill you. Speed exhilarates. It’s the sudden stops that kill you. And the sudden stop and loud bang came as a surprise to us. Dead silence reigned until in an awed American upstate New York accent Larry exclaimed from the back seat, “We’ve had a head-on collision with a hill!” .

That broke the ice. The hill, meantime, had probably broken the suspension.

But no. A committee undercarriage inspection revealed all four wheels suspended in mid-air. Trying to gun it out left the front wheels whizzing around uselessly. Well, that is why there were five of us, so we man-handled it over the ditch and away we went, cleverer than before.

Forty five years later I flew in to inspect the scene of the mystery. Which was still unsolved and now a very cold case. The mystery was this: How could it be that such great and experienced drivers crashed? I mean some of us had been driving for . . well, months! And in not too many years’ time, we’d be licenced drivers.

I flew in via google earth. And there it was: A fault!! It was Queen’s Hill’s fault, not ours!

A great big fault – or ditch? – runs North-South across the whole hill. THAT was what caught us by surprise in the long grass.

Queen's Hill - Annotated

I have little doubt that if one were to measure its width you’ll find it just a bit greater than the wheelbase of a 1961 Saab93!

~~~oo0oo~~~

  • * Next time you’re wondering who made those ‘crop circles’? Think a) Homo sapiens; b) Homo sapiens subspecies pranksterii; c) Alcohol; These are facts.

 

Prohibition lifted, re-instated

The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.

It was 1969 and we were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had launched a seuns toer and then discovered they didn’t actually have enough seuns in Kestel to toer. So they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School’s seuns: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes, and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?

We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: A fine Hotel on the main street of the small metropolis of Karasburg. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.

We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. His relaxed response had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.

Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner or manager, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.

He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting the peaceful liberal ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.

But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!

Early next morning we hightailed it out of the metropolis of Karasburg and headed for the nearby Finger of God. Was it going to wag at us sternly for our little alcoholic misdemeanour?

~~~oo0oo~~~

seuns – boys

toer – tour

kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’

vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?

Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!

onderwyser – teacher

Eat Your Heart Out Chuck Norris!

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Camping on the slopes of Platberg below Khyber Pass Pierre, Tuffy and I had made a fort of ouhout branches and cleared a big spot to make a fire. Sitting around talking shit when we heard a rustle and a shout and who appeared before us but Guillaume. He was excited that we were overnighting and asked to join us. Sure! we said. With pleasure!

He first had to head back to town, though, to go to movies. He had recently left school and had a date with one of the onnies. The one with the micro miniskirts! The one we had lustful thoughts about. That little blonde one with the pageboy hairstyle. That one!

Well after midnight there was another rustle, another shout, and Guillaume squeezed back through our hedge with a blanket over his shoulder and a plastic packet in his hand. He sat on the blanket, took a bloody ox heart out of the packet, stuck it on a stick and roasted it over the coals.

Look: We knew he was the nephew of the famous Deneys Reitz of Boer War Commando fame; and the son of legendary Dr Frank Reitz – but MAN, were we impressed! I mean Action Man had walked up a mountain in the dark, carried the lightest provisions (when we looked at the size of our rucksacks and sleeping bags), roasted and ate an ox heart – and pomped a teacher. All in one night!

Eat your heart out, Chuck Norris!

~~~ooo0ooo~~~

ouhoutLeucosidea sericea, lovely aromatic scrub bushes and trees found in stream beds in the Drakensberg our inselbergs, and surrounding foothills

onnies – teachers; from onderwyser

pomped – made love; who we kidding? had sex; shunted; or so we surmised

More great pics of Platberg here.

~~~oo0oo~~~