Monday, 28 November 2011

Wichts: Early Cape Town Landlords

I have over the years heard many stories about the Wicht Cape property empire of the 1800's, in particular, their reputation as "slum lords" of Bree Street and District 6. Indeed, I recently read  an article where JAH Wicht (1808-1867) defended themselves from such accusations and made the claim that they are  "not the kind of landlords who charge high rents". Of the few remaining street signs still up in District 6, one still reads "Wicht Singel".

I recently came across the book Cape Town: The Making of a City and pulled out the following extracts.

What was particularly interesting to me was how their fortunes were build on owning slaves prior to emancipation.

"Economically the Dutch flourished under the British as they could not under the monopolistic and moribund VOC. Many were slave owners themselves and they profited even from emancipation. The fortunes of Dutch businessmen in Cape Town had been laid during the 1830s and 1840s when they acted as moneylenders to their compatriots on the security of slaves! Cape Town’s Dutch slave owners were not neglected when compensation was paid. RM Brink and JJL Smuts were both members of the slave compensation board while Smuts, acting with Hamilton Ross, was an agent for the payment of compensation money, along with Servaas de Kock and J.H. Hofmeyr. Slave compensation money was frequently invested in property to house the newly liberated population.

The Hon. J.H. Wicht 
1808-1886
The brothers JH and JAH Wicht were outstanding examples of moneylenders turned slum landlords. JAH Wicht also reinvested slave compensation money in business. Of the six companies formed in 1838, three were dominated by Dutch shareholders - De Protecteur Fire and Life Assurance Co. (chairman, JH Hofmeyr), the South African Bank {chairman, F.S. Watermeyer) and the Board of Executors (chairman, the Hon. H. Cloete). The improved financial status of these Dutch businessmen gave them a sound economic basis for their hid for political power in succeeding decades. To judge from the records of such institutions as the Board of Executors, ‘old` Cape Town families like the Hofmeyrs and the Hiddinghs retained their economic position in the town into the twentieth century. The first English-speaking chairman of the Board of Executors, the lawyer WI Moore, was appointed only in 1903, at which time the directors were still substantially Dutch speaking.

Johan Andreas Heysze
1806-1861
The most prominent of all Cape Town's speculative builders was the Wicht family. Johan Andreas Heysze (JAH) Wicht (1806-1861) owned 145 houses by 1850, while (Johan Hendrik) Wicht (1823-1907) had 30-40 and Johan Coenraad (JC) Wicht (1814-1878) had 11, all mainly in a band starting at Napier Street and ending in New Church Street. Here JAH Wicht had about 40 houses with 19 in Buitengracht Street and 7 in Buiten Street. He also had 17 in Vandeleur Street and interests in District Six. By the early 1860s the family holdings had increased. JAH Wicht now had 340 houses, of which about 106 were in District Six. He had been building at least 20 a year for the last decade. JH Wicht now owned about 40, all on the west side of the town, while JC Wicht had 80. 

All told, this made a family group of 460 houses. Typical of these properties was ‘Sebastopol’, nicknamed in reference to the notorious London tenements, consisting of a row of small, two-storeyed houses in Bree Street. Without water supply, sanitation or much refuse removal, such places were overcrowded and squalid in the extreme.

After JAH Wicht's death in the 1860s, the estate devolved on his children, Christiaan Lodewyk and Johan Andreas Wicht, who themselves had some 325 houses. These increased after the boom of the 1870s. By 1880 C. and Andreas Wicht owned 375 houses worth about £60,000 according to the municipal valuation, mainly in District Six. In the 1890s they began to sell their holdings and by 1896 they had a combined total of less than 70 houses."

According to "Ethnic Pride & Racial Prejudice In Victorian Cape Town" (Vivian Bickford-Smith) the Wicht family owned 12% of the Cape's housing stock in 1870.




Thursday, 17 November 2011

Lessons from Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr


Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr
20 March 1894 - 3 December 1948

Article by Dr Roos Muller
Cape Times, November 3, 2011

South Africans have all too often been guilty of objectifying the other, that is, those who are not like us, as Professor Milton Shain indicated in his article on anti-Semitism before and during World War II. But we also have a history of producing strong individuals of principle who are unafraid to publicly defend an extremely unpopular stance, even to their own detriment.

At a time when the Jewish population of South Africa sorely needed a champion within the ranks of the governing party, who themselves were under severe political threat by the nationalist right-wing, one of the most remarkable and under-valued men this country has ever produced, Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, rose to meet that challenge.

The time that Shain refers to, after the accession of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany in 1933, was also a period of vicious anti-Semitism in South Africa. Dr DF Malan preached that Jews were unassimilable and his old newspaper, Die Burger, entrenched anti-Jewish attitudes by publishing articles denying any persecution of German Jews.

Into this fraught arena stepped Hofmeyr. He was born in 1894 into a politically connected family. His father, who died when Hofmeyr was almost three, was the cousin of “Onze Jan” Hofmeyr, a politician in the Cape liberal tradition who became a mentor to the younger Hofmeyr. The brilliant boy was also related to Jan Smuts on his mother’s side. He was considered a child genius; he matriculated from SACS at 12 and by the age of 17 had completed bachelor degrees in arts and science and an MA, a biography on Onze Jan and had won a Rhodes Scholarship – while still wearing short pants. His life was dominated by his formidable mother, Deborah, who doted on him.  She kept a firm grasp on her son, accompanied him to Oxford and lived with him for the remainder of his relatively short but stellar life. 
JH with mother Deborah
He was a thinker of intense depth and conscience, and found it intolerable to support anything he did not think had a valid ethical or intellectual basis. This uncompromising position can be a death-knell in politics, the very harbour of compromise. That Hofmeyr survived a remarkable political career, including deputy prime minister, a slew of senior ministerial positions, and acting prime minister during WWII, no doubt came at least in part from the political patronage of SA leader Smuts who spent most of that war overseas.

Hofmeyr never flinched. His first maiden speech as MP in 1929 attacked the Quota Bill, the work of Malan, who sought to restrict Jewish (and Indian) immigration, though he had had a part in the introduction of a new Aliens Bill in the (vain) hope of defusing the rising spectre of anti-Semitism. When Verwoerd and five other professors from the University of Stellenbosch angrily protested at the arrival of the SS Stuttgart in 1936, carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees, he publicly condemned their actions.

When another 75 German Jews arrived on the Guilio Cesare shortly afterwards, more protest meetings were held by Verwoerd attacking Hofmeyr. It became commonplace to hear ordinary officials and those working within our public sector refer to the “Jewish menace”. In 1937 the new minister of the interior, Richard Stuttaford, introduced a Bill with the intent of controlling immigration; everyone knew that the real agenda behind it was to end Jewish immigration at a time when Jews still had a chance to escape from Germany.

Hofmeyr opposed it: a visit to India had entrenched his recognition of the dignity and self-respect of other heritages. In particular, he believed it was wrong to legislate against social interaction: despite his own admitted reservations about “mixing” and intermarriage, he believed that proposed laws prohibiting them were insensitive and blind to the great heritage of those others, and that it was to the detriment of South Africa that it attempted to introduce such Bills.

In his Coming of Age, Hofmeyr wrote that the term “native problem” was a mistake; the real issue at stake he thought, was that of race relations. In a speech at Fort Hare University in 1937 he elaborated his thoughts as a private, rather than a political, individual, when he said, “I see no solution of what I refuse to call the native problem, what I shall call the problem of race relations, save on the basis of the recognition that white man and black man are possessors of a common humanity” (South African Outlook, May 1937).

It was this conviction that drove him to oppose almost single-handedly from the government benches the vicious onslaught of such political opponents as the fascist Oswald Pirow, a devotee of  Hitler.  Hofmeyr warned when speaking at the first annual general meeting of the newly formed Society of Jews and Christians that anti-Semitism was a precursor of dictatorship, concluding by saying that “it is not by showing hostility to a certain section of the people, but only by welcoming the contributions which all sections of the community can bring, that a nation is built”.

Hofmeyr was man of honour. Despite his great privileges as a member of the Afrikaans ruling elite, he refused to place his principles at the mercy of political expediency. It would lead to him being blamed, shamefully, by supporters of Smuts for the loss of the general election after WWII in 1948, after an anti-Hofmeyr campaign of vilification by the opposition assured frightened voters that his name was synonymous with swart gevaar. 

Alan Paton, who knew him well, wrote in his extraordinary biography of Hofmeyr that it was his very courage and honesty that made him the perfect target. “Outdated as some of his ideas might appear to those who came after him, they were honourable attempts to break out of the chains in which white South Africa had been confined for centuries… (his) was the defeat of every South African of whatever colour or kind who desired to strengthen interracial bonds, to deepen inter-racial knowledge, to teach South Africans not to judge in terms of race and colour, to teach them to see each other as men and women with a common land and a common destiny.”
Hofmeyr with Gen. Smuts

It was not Smuts who was defeated, but Hofmeyr’s ideals; more than a half-century later, I still hear liberal Afrikaners blaming Hofmeyr for that election defeat, instead of honouring his name. Six months later in 1948, Hofmeyr was dead, still in his early 50s. Many believed he was worn out. Though today some of his attitudes feel old-fashioned, we have not acknowledged his pioneering public stances introduced during an era drenched in racial prejudice. Not only Jews, but South African Indians in particular, and all those who were considered “not white”, were championed by one who was not called upon, but chose it as a steadfast result of his own intellectual and personal pursuits.

Hofmeyr died in Johannesburg  almost six months after the National Party came to power with their slogan of apartheid. He was buried two days later from the Dutch Reformed Church in Bosman Street. His funeral procession was two miles long, of which the streets were lined by thousands of people, an estimated 10,000 present in total. General Jan Smuts paid tribute to Hofmeyr both at the graveside, and on the evening before in a national radio broadcast.

Of Hofmeyr he said:  “Here was the wonder child of South Africa, with a record with which South Africa shows no parallel, who from his youngest years beat all records, whose achievement in a comparatively brief life shows no parallel in this land, and whose star at the end was still rising... He has passed on, but his service and the high spirit in which he sought to serve his country and his fellow-men of all races remain our abiding possessions. This is a better and richer country for his service, and his message will not be forgotten. “



A person of Hofmeyr’s stature and courage comes along all too seldom: we must hope that there are others, here and now, who will be able to transcend personal and party loyalties and seek solutions which reject the categorisation of anyone else as “other”, and have the courage to find and embrace our common destiny.

● Dr Roos Muller is a former activist, and a writer on political and literary issues.  For more detailed bio  on Jan Hendrik, here is the link to Wikipedia:


Monday, 10 October 2011

Deon Du Plessis 1950-2011

 Deon du Plessis, oldest son of Louis Wicht and Sonny Du Plessis, died at his home in Johannesburg on Sunday 11th Sept 2011 at the age of 59.

Few fit the cliché “larger than life” like Deon did. Not only was he a substantial presence physically, but he had the character to match; a character that did not tolerate fools and eschewed politically correctness. Though best known as the founder and proprietor of South Africa’s largest daily newspaper The Sun he will be remembered by friends and family as a great story teller, a generous friend and family man, a keen amateur historian, a man who seemed to embody many contradictions, yet managed nonetheless to gain the respect and admiration of those he supported and even those with whom he vehemently disagreed.

Deon embodied the great tradition of maverick newspaper men such as Robert Maxwell, Conrad Black and the fictitious Citizen Kane (immortalised by Orson Wells).

Daily Sun announcing  Deon death
Deon had an aura of indestructibility so it was a huge shock to the family when he died suddenly from complications arising from acute bronchitis. He leaves behind his wife Vanessa, his daughter Daniella & her husband Neels, two grandchildren Alexis and Max and his brother Adrian.

Seton Bailey, Deon’s cousin, attended the cremation and memorial service.

“It was a poignant, dignified though still quite festive gathering which was very well attended by printing industry stalwarts and luminaries and many tributes poured in from far and wide. It was very clear that Deon was loved and respected by many as a journalistic mentor and a pioneer who changed the face of mass newspaper distribution in South Africa with the introduction of the Sun newspaper, opening up a previously un-tapped, massively lucrative, vast tabloid, `blue-collar’ market and dedicated readership.

Daniella du Plessis
The gathering was a admixture of seemingly very different people from vastly different cultures who all shared an instant where time somehow seemed to stand still - with the winds of change whipping all around, in the eye of a perfect storm if you like - in which so many diverse people from so many cultures each for their own peculiar, hilarious, momentous, insignificant, material, spiritual, genealogical, historical, business or metaphysical reasons momentarily united in a common desire to honor and remember Deon. From praise-singers & sangomas, to editors and former army colleagues, from fellow journalists to foreign correspondents, they all came up to pay peculiar, personal tribute. Attached are just a few selected pictures.
Vanessa du Plessis

Deon was a colossus, literally and figuratively and he is sorely missed by many. When Atlas shrugged the world took notice. We continue to feel the ripples in the media. Thanks so much for the opportunity, it was well worth it.

Our deep condolences to his family.” 


The following are extracts of some the many tributes and obituaries that have been published in the media over the last weeks:

Mandy De Waal:
The white hyena, the gun-loving boer, that great newspaper man who gave SA’s blue-collared hordes news worth reading is no more. In his place a giant of a legacy – a tabloid every flailing newspaper’s trying to copy in a sector where the Daily Sun remains unrivalled.

Tragically Du Plessis, who died this weekend at the age of 59 in his home in Johannesburg, was about to take three months' sabbatical. "I have never had a holiday like this before... so actually I have no idea what I'll do with it," he told his blog's email subscribers (myself included) last Friday. "I think I should prepare myself for the dreaded bouncing ball... Without even being planned, one thing will follow another. I will probably set about bringing my spoken Portuguese lessons up to speed using one-on-one lessons I have never had time for. Then I will go to Portugal... I mean: why not?

"From there I will follow the footsteps and hoofsteps of the Duke of Wellington as he kicked the French out of Portugal in the early 1800s. That, I prophesy, will lead me to the bigger battlefields of the same Peninsular campaign in Spain... Then I will probably go to Cadiz because it sounds romantic and I want to hear the Atlantic crashing on the sea-walls..."

Max du Preez
Vrye Weekblad founder and author told Bizcommunity: "I met Deon in Angola in 1978. We were both covering the war. I didn't know who he was and only after he spoke and I thought I recognised his accent did I introduce myself. I told him I thought he was Russian and he found that hilarious, going into a very insightful comparison between the mentalities of Russians and Afrikaner nationalists.

"He had a talent always to see beyond the obvious, to notice stuff other journalists never pick up on," says Du Preez. "He was very supportive when I launched Vrye Weekblad in the late 1980s but was clear in his advice. 'Do it quickly and get out, then go and make some money - there's nothing as pathetic as a destitute old hack,' he said. Deon was the most entertaining company one could ever ask for."

Jos Kuper
"This was a man who brought a particular kind of genius to the newspaper world. He had idiosyncratic views and yet a complete understanding of the need to get deep into the things that make his readers sing, laugh and cry. He understood how to reflect these, and how to address their issues. He created a newspaper that sees hundreds of people come to talk in person to the Daily Sun as it is their friend that helps them to manage and take control of their lives.

"He was a brave change-maker, believing in a market at a time that not many others did. He was a good friend and colleague and a man who respected and loved his family with a deep passion."

A tale often told is that Du Plessis crunched the numbers and came up with the idea of the Daily Sun while at Independent Newspapers. The firm failed to see the value in it so the two took it to Media24.

The rest is publishing history. Within five years, the paper that dishes up a skilfully edited daily mix of information and entertainment had become the biggest paper in the country - hitting a high of 500 000 sales before beginning to fall back during the worldwide recession. While the paper's readership as measured by AMPS is more than 4.6 million readers, its ABC circulation was at 381 000 in the second quarter of this year.

Du Plessis made a deep impression upon the many people with whom he worked - as a consummate journalist and a party animal.

Chris Whitfield
The head of Independent Newspapers in the Western Cape, Chris was a reporter at the Sunday Tribune when Du Plessis was an assistant editor at the paper and worked with him again when Whitfield was the deputy editor of The Sunday Independent and Du Plessis was head of Independent Newspapers Gauteng.

"Deon was one of the few people who genuinely deserved being described as larger than life," says Whitfield. "He was not one for small measures: he drove the biggest cars, lived in the biggest house (with the biggest TV screen I had ever seen), hired the biggest bodyguards (we never really worked out why they were required but they were always around in those days), threw the biggest parties and was a big man himself.

"He was also one for big ideas, one of which gave rise to the Daily Sun... By contrast he was also thoughtful, caring and could write beautifully. He is a great loss to journalism."

Robert Brand
The Bloomberg reporter says: "He often acted the buffoon and sometimes did crazy things but he was really a very smart editor who inspired real loyalty among his staff.

"He was a very sociable person and would invite the lowliest reporter to his house in Houghton for legendary parties. I left the Pretoria News shortly after he took over in 1993 to backpack through Europe and perhaps find a job in London. Two months into my travels, I unexpectedly received a phone call one morning at the backpackers' hostel I was staying at in London.

"It was Deon - how he had tracked me down, I don't know. 'Brand,' he said in his gruff way, 'It's time to come back.'... It was difficult to say no to Deon. As a result, I was involved in covering the story of a lifetime and I will be forever in his debt."

Du Plessis was generous with his knowledge, although he did not suffer fools. He was also incredibly humble about his achievements.

Raymond Joseph
As then acting director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), veteran freelance journalist Raymond Joseph recalls taking a group of young journalists doing a course at the institute last year to the Daily Sun for a show-around.

"I expected some underling to handle it, say a few words and then send us on our way," says Joseph. "To my surprise, Deon himself pitched up to talk to them about the paper - and for more than an hour he spoke with genuine passion about the Daily Sun and its target reader, the man in the blue overall, passing on valuable journalism lessons to the youngsters, who hung on his every word.

"I had heard him on this subject before but never with such clarity and I, for one, finally truly understood why the paper was such a runaway success. Yet, when I asked a leading question referring to his vision - and his hands-on role in its success - he was quite self-deprecating, playing his part down.

"It was left to me, later, to tell them about Deon, a bull of a man and the consummate journalist, an old-fashioned editor who got his hands dirty and was always in the trenches when the real work was being done. Deon worked hard and, when the work was done, he played equally hard. A true character of South African journalism, he will be sorely missed. But his legacy as the father of red tops in this country lives on."

Sandra Gordon
Under his leadership at Independent Newspapers in Gauteng, the highbrow Sunday Independent was born. And later, he was convinced there was a huge need for a middle market tabloid that would talk to a mass readership.  And so his idea for the Daily Sun was born. “The powers at Independent didn’t buy into that vision,” recalls Sandra Gordon, publisher of The Media and The Media Online. “He touted the idea for the tabloid all over the place but it was only Koos Bekker at Media24 who understood his vision and supported him in launching the Daily Sun.”

It was that vision that turned him into one of the most powerful publishers in the country. The Daily Sun hit the spot, and brought millions of new readers into the newspaper world.  It has over five million readers and those readers, Du Plessis told The Media, are where the country’s power and money base resides. “The fact that political leaders like Helen Zille campaign in townships and not suburbs like Parktown North, proves this point,” he said.

Themba Khumalo
Daily Sun’s editor-in-chief Themba Khumalo said in a statement shortly after news of his death broke.  “Deon’s death leaves a huge void. He was a consummate journalist and a taskmaster of note,” 

Rian Malan
In June this year, The Media magazine wrote that “Deon du Plessis is the quintessential image of an old school newspaperman, with his thick cigars, Klippies and Cokes, booming voice and larger-than-life appearance.” In the story, the writer Rian Malan once aptly described Du Plessis as “the sort of Boer that the English have been caricaturing for centuries: a jovial giant with thighs like tree trunks and a great raw slab of a face. He likes guns and big-game hunting. He eats and drinks to excess, tells dirty jokes, swears.”

Babalwa Shota
City Press “His people equally loved and feared him, but most importantly they respected him. May he rest in peace.”

Nicole Johnston
My most vivid image of him is when he was at Independent and I was with MWASA – we used to lock horns a lot. One day after WEEKS of wage negotiations, I was giving him stick about maternity leave and he lost it. Got up, walked to the wall, and started banging his head against it, shouting ” I CANNOT take Nicole Johnston ANY more!” :D True story!

Ann Donald 
The scariest day of my career was when I had to resign from the Pretoria News to take up the editorship of Longevity. He crapped all over me for wanting to go to a ‘magazine for wrinklies’, didn’t speak to me for the month of my notice or the next 10 years, then told me at a Media24 conference when I was editing Fair Lady, the I ‘did good’. An enormous man in so many other ways than the obvious. What a loss to the industry and to his family.

James Mitchell 
A real people-person, that one. I once returned from a long lunch at Kapitan’s (remember that) with a mate: phoned the wrong number and got Deon. He invited my mate and I to come on up: there was a bottle of whisky waiting on his desk and he told us told us to go down to the far end of his office and drink it (quietly, if possible).

Gill Moodie
Deon du Plessis loved to say in his weekly blog posts as the Daily Sun publisher: "This is how we roll it in Sunland" - and this swashbuckling phrase sums the man up, too. He was larger than life, rambunctious and generous - a genius newspaper man with ink in his veins, feared and fearless but, above all, the visionary who started the tabloid newspaper industry in this country when he opened the Daily Sun nine years ago. 

Kanthan Pillay
Kanthan, of the Durban Post says “I first met Deon du Plessis at the Sunday Tribune offices in Field Street during the early 1980s where he was deputy editor. He was a giant of a man – I stand close to 6 feet tall, but he towered over me and was almost twice as broad as I am. By the time I returned to the country in 1994, he was by then editor of the Pretoria News. He was widely expected to become editor of The Star in Johannesburg, but instead became the editor’s boss – as managing director of Independent Newspapers Gauteng.

It was at that stage of his career that I renewed acquaintance with him in 1996 when he interviewed me for the position of deputy editor of the Pretoria News. He did not give me the job, which left me slightly miffed, but called me thereafter to offer me another job. “Editing is for piepie jollers,” he said. “I’m creating a position for you and want you to work with me.”

I quit my job in Durban and moved up to Jo’burg. Deon was waiting for me on my first day and showed me to my new office right in front of his. He then took me on walkabout through the massive Star building with its hundreds of employees. He walked me through every single department, and wherever we went, he introduced me to every single employee he came across by name, telling me who that employee was and what he or she did at the company. It was my first astonished insight into just how hands-on he was with everything that went on under his leadership.

At the end of the day, I heard his voice bellow across the passage: “Boet! Come in here and let’s drink like white men!” I walked into his office where he had whipped out a bottle of Bells, which he poured over ice into two lead crystal glasses. “What’s this about ‘white men’, Deon?” I asked him. “I thought I came here on a promotion!”
“Ja, ja,” he gestured to the seat in front of him passing a glass to me. “Now look here, my good fellow … ” (In the months to come, I would learn that this was a signature phrase of his to indicate something important.) “I’ve got one instruction for you. Don’t f*** the help.”

“What?”

“Don’t pomp the peasants!”

“Deon, what are you talking about?”

“Listen boet. There’s a lot of attractive women here. They will look at you, see that you are young and moving up in the company. Don’t do it! Keep it outside!”

And thus began what was to be a whirlwind mentorship with the most engaging raconteur I have ever met. I became a regular dinner guest at his Houghton home where he and his wife Vanessa wined and dined guests with genuine warmth that is generally the cultural purview of Indians and Jews. Deon, for all his outward boorish bluster, was astonishingly well-read, particularly on military history and strategy and would constantly draw life lessons from the successes and failures of the past.
During the day, he led by example. We went into annual wage negotiations with the unions with Deon representing head office, me representing Gauteng, and two other colleagues representing KZN and the Cape. “I don’t want any raised voices!” he cautioned us. “We are the voice of reason. We are sweetness and light. If any of you raise your voices, you will buy dinner for all of us out of your own pocket.” (Wage negotiations were concluded promptly and in our favour!)

Deon was passionate about the idea of starting a national tabloid newspaper catering to the lower end of the market. We put together the business plan and presented it to the board. They shot it down, saying it would never work. Deon’s resignation announcement came the following year: “I’m 47 and I want to spend the next bunch of years doing things that I could not have done in a big corporation like this … I’m not leaving Johannesburg because this is the city I love, and I’m not leaving newspapers because it is the industry that I love.”

The rest is history. The Daily Sun became the biggest media success story of the 21st century. Amid the “Tokoloshe Ate My Testicles” headlines, the newspaper provided genuine down-to-earth advice on how to get an ID document, how to open a bank account, how to apply for a loan.

In the foyer of their offices stands a life-size cardboard cut-out of a black man wearing blue overalls carrying a copy of the Daily Sun. “That’s our reader,” Deon told me. “We must always be reminded of that.”

Deon du Plessis is dead. The words do not roll easily off my tongue because it is akin to saying there will be no high tide today. The man who by sheer force of personality built The Daily Sun into the biggest newspaper in the country is no more. There are some who will say that 59 is too young to die, but then as Ridley Scott says, the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

Tot siens, groot baas.

With much love and respect.

Strong man Deon leading from the front (Bailey archives)


Friday, 15 April 2011

Book Launch for "History of the Wicht Family And Their Farm Blouwaterbaai"


We are delighted to announce that the book "History of the Wicht family and their farm Blouwaterbaai in Sal­danha Bay 1943-2003" is now available as a (limited edition) hard copy for sale. It is also available as ibook on the family website (www.wicht.co.za) where you can read it at your leisure. 

To celebrate the nearly 60 years the Wicht family have lived on the farm, you are invited to join us at Blouwaterbaai on the 4th of June for a riotous lunch-time book launch. Alethea Wicht and her band 'Lady Bass' (www.ladybass.co.za) will be in attendance to regale us. 


To attend, please RSVP to jolene@wicht.co.za. For those of you who might consider travelling from afar, the family farm is now an exquisite seaside hotel and is offering a special rate for the occasion (www.blouwaterbaai.com).

Blouwaterbaai tribe
The book is a testament to the adventures of Henry and Babeta Wicht on the derelict seaside land they bought in 1953 that finally realized their dreams of a family farm with a river running through it and a view of Table Mountain. While on war leave from Egypt during WW2, Henry visited his father who was stationed in Saldanha Bay. He fell in love with the small fishing village and immediately brought his new bride to do some house hunting. Despite howls of protestations from family and friends, they used all their savings to buy a dilapidated house perched on sand dunes, overrun by snakes and spiders, with an endless stretch of private beach, in the sheltered bay of Saldanha. They moved onto the property in 1958 with their 6 young children, and soon begat 3 more. With no money to speak of (other than a meager salary as a military officer) but armed with plenty of faith, hope and probably a little bit of charity, they slowly build a magnificent family home and prosperous farm on the water's edge.

The chapters in the book cover the full gambit of their life on the farm, from their struggles to make the farm pay prior to the discovery of the manna from the sea that washed up on the beach, to the first Sea Harvest Festival in 1960, the building of the family restaurant Meresteijn, and chapters from all 9 siblings with their recollection of life on the farm.

The creation of this book is an amazing tribute to the tenacity, spirit and determination of Jolene Wicht who, in taking her cue from Henry and Babeta, just did it!

To quote Jolene:

“The idea to compile this family history book was prompted in January 2010 when the house of my oldest brother, Johan, burnt to the ground, destroying not just his lifelong collection of books, paintings and memories but also some of the Hofmeyr and Wicht memorabilia. Had my mother’s many albums and scrapbooks been stored in his house it would have been destroyed, along with all their notes, photographs and diaries. I thank God that her collection was in safe keeping in the family home, Blue Bay Lodge, at the time.”

“With humble beginnings and a family of nine children to support, the wonderful story of my parents time on the farm unfolds in this book through the vast collection of newspaper articles, memoirs, and photos that my mother accumulated.

Book unveiling at Bluewaterbaai
“I started the book in April 2010 by delving into what felt like an endless treasure of source material that also at times felt like a bottomless pit. After going though the numerous scrapbooks and scanning in photos, I would then visit one of my many siblings to discover that they too had a few scrapbooks and albums given to them by darling mum. It took a few months to find my stride and resist the temptation to give up and to run away from the enormity of the task.”

“The book is designed to pay tribute to their love and dedication to serve, not only family, but also the local community, especially those less privileged than us. An inspiration to me has been the annual record and newsletters of the family written and printed by our dapper grandfather Dr  Harold (Pal) Hofmeyr in the 1960 and 1970's  –  The Hofmeyr Reporter. It has reminded me again how important it is to record your family history for generations to follow. And also how short our life is – too often we only get to know your parents once they are no longer with us. The life lessons and traditions are also so important. I cried and laughed as I re-discovered my childhood, and only hope and pray that our children will carry on with this tradition for their families.” 

“I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed reliving their dreams, adventures, struggles and triumphs. I dedicate this book to my parents indomitable spirit who taught us that with faith and love, anything is possible. Also to all those who knew, loved and supported them on their journey; to my brothers and sisters; and to the next generations and the generations to follow – may this serve to anchor you in the long line of those who came before you, and on whose shoulders you now stand. 


And may this book help you realise that it is pointless to resist that spirit of adventure that flows though you – it is your family blood!”

Paul, the youngest Wicht sibling, enjoying his book.


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A Lonely Father Yearns For His Daughter (1865)


Towards the end of the long Cape winter in 1865,  Johannes Jacob Hofmeyr wrote the enclosed letter to his daughter Geertruide Aletta. Johannes was born at Welgemeend and, as the oldest surviving son, presumably still lived in the large Hofmeyr family home on the slopes on Table Mountain. Geertruide had married the "capitalist landlord" Johan Frederik Wicht and moved to Mermaid Cottage (see Rapallo in previous blog) which was then an isolated home overlooking the ocean in rural Sea Point (close where the Pavilion is now). Today it is a scant 30min drive by car but to Johannes it seemed very far away indeed. He was 54 years old. His wife, also Geertruida, had died three years earlier, which may account for his loneliness and he was "so depressed".
Mermaid Cottage (Rapallo)


In his letter he frets about his grandchildren, Hennie and Johanna. Though Hans Heinrich "Hennie" died at the age of 20, Johanna, who "should be kept out of the evening air" went on to live a long and colourful life.


Johan Frederik Wicht
Johanna never married - apparently her father Johan Frederik never approved of her suitors. When her father died in 1907, he left Rapallo to his  grandchildren with the proviso, however, that Johanna, should enjoy the use of it during her lifetime. Johanna was left "comfortably" off by her father and became a well know sight in Cape Town in her chauffeured Rolls Royce at a time when few people in the city possessed motor cars. But by 1912, life in Cape Town became "intolerably provincial" for Johanna and she packed up and went to Europe, taking her car, chauffeur and aide along with her! Rapallo was left in charge of a relation as caretaker until such time as the she might come back. 


Johanna in London 1930
But Johanna never returned - she wandered all over Europe in her Rolls Royce. When World War I broke out, she took refuge in Switzerland which she found very pleasant indeed and remained there until she died 30 years after she left South Africa. 




The letter was recently give to me by Jo and Jan Wicht. Jan is the brother of Joan Fulford (nee Wicht) who we met recently, just before she tragically died in a car accident on Hospital Bend. 


Johannes wrote his letter in1865 in what I presume was then known as Cape Dutch:


Zaterdag, Kaapstad den 26 Augustus 1865
Lieve Kind! Uwen brief van donderdag den 24ste dezer heb ik gisteren den 25ste dezer ontvangen, reg verblijd was ik daaruit te vememen dat gij allen door des Heren goedheid behouden ter plaatze uwer bestemming zijn aangekomen ik heb veel onrust uitgestaan om de sterke wind maar tot mijn blijdschap vernam ik uit u brief dat de wind tog niet zoo sterk gewaayd heeft, en dat Hennie en Johanna dien nagt goed geslapen hebben, Frits was gisteren bij mij, zoo dat ik u brief hem eigenhandig overgegeven heb hij is nog wel pas tog de kindertjes goed op houd hun uit de avondlugt, wij zijn ook nog redelijk wel, uitgezondert dat ik nog zoo zwaarmoedig ben schrijf mij tog spoedig weder, zoen Hen nie en Johanna voor ons en zijt ook gij van ons allen gegroet en in den geest omhelst. Voorts beveel ik u allen aan de genade en bescherming des Heeren aan. Met alle liefde en hoogagting noeme ik mij u heilwenschende  Vader Johannes Hofmeijer PS: lk verwagt eerstkomendnde maandag of diengsdag weder een brief van u verzuim tog niet te schrijven het kost tog maar een penny ik zou wel wenschen alle dagen een brief van u te ontvangen. Stel mij nu niet teleur ik hoop als er niets in den weg komt zeker een brief maandag of diengsog van u te ontvangen. De Heere zij en blijve met u en uwe kinderties. Leef wel U Vader
J:Hofmeijer


The English translation is: 


Saturday, Capetown, the 25 August 1865
Dear Child
Hans Heinrich (Hennie)
Your letter of Thursday the 24th of this (month) I received yesterday the 25th of this (month). I was really glad to read that you all have arrived safely through the Lord's goodness at your destination. I was very worried about the strong wind but I was glad to read in your letter that the wind did not blow that strong, and that Hennie and Johanna have slept well that night. Yesterday Fritz was with me, so I personally handed him your letter. He is well. Take care of the little children. Keep them out of the evening air. We are also still fairly well, except that I am so depressed. Write me again soon.  Kiss Hennie and Johanna from us and receive greetings and hugs in the spirit from us all. Furthermore I ask God’s grace and protection for you all. With all love and regards, I call myself your good wishing Father
Johannes Hofmeijer
P:S: I expect this coming Monday or Tuesday again a letter from you! Do not fail to write. It only costs one penny. I wished I could receive a letter from you every day. Do not disappoint me now. I hope that if nothing intervenes, to surely receive a letter on Monday or Tuesday from you. May the Lord be and stay with you and your little children
Live well. 
Your Father J. Hofmeijer


Note the spelling of Hofmeijer - I would be interested to know when it became Hofmeyr.