Saturday, 30 June 2007

The South African Wichts

According to records unearthed by Babeta Wicht during a visit to Nothern Germany during the 1970's, the South African Wichts stem from a family of clock makers in and around Munich, Bavaria. In his lucid and charming account of the methods employed from marking ‘Time’s thievish progress to eternity,’ a Mr. Garn described how the water clock gave place to the measurement of time using sand, which was less susceptible to pressure. It was not until the 14th century when Henry Wicht constructed the first clock consisting of four wheels, a weght and a lever that time was measured mechanically. His invention today found it’s counterpart in ‘Big Ben’ of St’ Pauls, with a variation of half a minute per week.

Members of that branch of the family migrated North via Switzerland during the 16th century and landed up in Spieka, a town close to Dorum in the district of Hanover on the North Sea Coast.

Church records in Dorum, Germany on 30 October, 1732 Johan Wicht was a blacksmith maried to Anna Maria Söhnlein. One of their sons was…

1 - Hans Hinrich Wicht (1732 – 1764), who married Helena Adikus (1729 - 1800) on 20 November, 1750. She was the daughter of Eyber Adikus of the ‘Old Pond’ in Spieka. Their children, all born in ‘Old Pond,’ were…

1 - Anna Maria (b. 22 November, 1751)
2 - Johan Eyber (b. 21 December, 1753)
3 - Alheit Catherina (b. 16 April, 1756 - d.1957)
4 - Hillena Catherina (b. 27 April, 1758 -
5 - Henrich (b. 21 April, 1762)
6 - Hans Hinrich (b. 6 July, 1765 – d. 8 March, 1850)
7 - Hinrich Christiaan (b. 9 January, 17667 – d. 23 January, 1767) He was the illegitimate son of Johann Andreas Zeiger

3 Hans Hinrich was the first Wicht to come to South Africa, arriving in Cape Town in 1796. He was born in Spieka, Hanover, shortly after his father’s death in 1764. On 3 March, 1805, he married Johanna Christina Heyse. She was the daughter of Johan Andreas Heyse, who had come to Cape Town from Kassel in 1768, and was one of the first watchmakers in the Cape. Her mother was Christina Maria König, the daughter of a cabinetmaker from Anhalt, Dresden. Hans Hinrich’s name first appears in local directories 1810, when he is shown as keeping a retail shop at no. 12 Bree Street. He continued at no. 12 (later 60) until 1832, after which he moved to no. 33, Bree Street until he died in 1850. His wife also died in Cape Town on 16 February, 1828. Their children were…

1 - Johan Andreas Heyse (1806 – 1861)
2 - Helena Christina (1807 – 1817)
3 - Johan Hendrik (the Honourable J. H. Wicht) (1808 – 1867)
4 - Christiaan Lodeyk (1811 – 1841)
5 - Johan Coenraad (1812 – 1813
6 - Johan Coenraad (1813 – 1878) m. Elizabeth Johanna de Kock (1818 - 1897)
7 - Henderik Lodewyk (1815 –
8 - Johanna Christina (1819 – 1820) m. George Clement Gie
9 - Helena Christina Maria (1819 –
10- Johanna Christina (1820 – 1876)
11- Maria Elizabeth (1821 – 1832)
12- Johan Frederik (1823 – 1907) m. Aletta Gertruida Hofmeyr ( - 1902)

4 Johan Hendrik (The Hon. Johan Hendrik Wicht) married Maria Magdalena Mostert. He was a Politician, Director of Bank Trusts and a landowner along with his brother, Andreas. He was baptised at the Lutheran Church, Standard Street, Cape Town on 1 January, 1809. In the same church he married Susanna Johanna Wentzel on 27 March, 1908. He died in his home in Mowbray on Sunday, 17 March, 1866. Their children were…

1 - Maria Magdalena (b. 22 March, 1832) Unmarried
2 - Johanna Christina (b. 22 September, 1834) m. Cpt. Busset
3 - Hendrica Johanna (b. 11 March, 1837) Unmarried
4 - Henriete Johanna (b. 30 March, 1838) Unmarried
5 - Jeanette Frederica (b. 12 August, 1839) Unmarried
6 - Johan Hendrik (b. 29 March, 1834 – d. 13 December, 1908) m. Susanna Johanna Wentzel
7 - Johannes Frederik (b. 9 September, 1884) Unmarried

5 Johan Henrik married Susanna Johanna Wentzel, daughter of Maria Wilhelmina Hofmeyr and Willem Frederik Wentzel, who’s Mother in turn was Susanna Johanna Wentzel, great-aunt of General J.M.B. Hertzog. J. H. bought the farm, Schoongezicht (later named Lanzerac) in 1887. Their children were…

1 - Johan Hendrik (b. 5 March, 1888 – d. 7 June, 1966)
2 - Maria Wilhelmina (Miemie) (b.25 January, 1890
3 - Willem Frederik (b. 5 January, 1891)
4 - Christiaan Lodewyk (b. 15 August, 1908)

6 Johan Hendrik was born on the farm, Schoongezicht (Lanzerac) He married Jonanna Cornelia Claasens in 1910. Their children were…

1 - Joan (b. 15 February, 1917 – d. 25 May, 1991))
2 - Louis (b. 15 March, 1919 - d. May, 2007)
3 - Johan Hendrik (b. 29 December, 1920 – d. 25 February, 1991)
4 - Annalise (b. 11 June, 1923)

7 Johan Hendrik married Babeta Hofmeyr (b. 9 June, 1924 – d. 22 October, 2003) on 28 September, 1946. They lived in Saldanha on their farm, Blouwaterbaai. Their children are…

1 - Johan Hendrik (b. 31 October, 1947)
2 – Pieter Harold (b. 15 february, 1949)
3 – Elaine Johanna (b. 15 January, 1952)
4 – Babeta Louise (b. 11 March, 1954)
5 – Eugene Rice (b. 16 November, 1954) Adopted in 1960.
6 – David Frederik (b. 28 November, 1955)
7 – Andre Hofmeyr (b. 7 March, 1958)
8 – Brian Barry (b. 9 June, 1959)
9 – Paul de Vyver (b. 23 November, 1964)

Please help us bring the list up-to-date


Ouma and Oupa Wicht - Johan Hendrik and Johanna Cornelia

Johan Hendrik Wicht, the third Wicht to be christened Johan Hendrik since the Hans Heinrich arrived in South Africa, was born on the family farm, Schoongezicht, near Stellenbosch on 5 March 1888. At the time the farm was being rented, but his father, Johan Hendrik 11, bought the property, then still primarily a dairy farm, in sections from it’s two current owners, Catherina D’Olivera and Jan Beyers between 1892 and 1993. The second purchase included the home, Lindushof, on Van Riebeek Street in Stellenbosch. At the time Schoongezicht was still primarily a dairy farm, although several of the previous owners had introduced grapes nearly 200 years earlier. He was just 20 when his father passed away in 1908, leaving him to take the reigns. The estate finally transferred Schoongezicht to him in July 1914,
In 1910 he married Johanna Cornelia Claasens. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Classens, she was born in Victoria West on 23 December 1891. It was rumoured that she and her Mother spent some time in an English prisoner of war camp during 1899. She was educated at Bloemhof, Stellenbosch where she showed a special talent for music, particularly singing and piano. Johanna was also of Cape decent and her traced their roots back tome of the Capes oldest families, including the Hofmeyrs and the Hertzogs. At the time they met she was living with her parents in their lovely home on Dorp Street, one of the many that have since been restored. She was the first student to obtain a singing licentiate (RPOD) in the Cape after studying at the Mowbray Training College for three years. Throughout her life she maintained a keen interest in both music and amateur theatricals and often stayed at Lindushof when she was performing. Three of their children were born at Schoogezicht; two daughters, Joan on 15 February 1917 and Louis on 15 February 1919. Their first son, Johan Hendrik IV was born there on 20 December 1920, shortly before the farm was sold.
The fourth child, Annalise, was born on 11 June 1992 after the Wichts trekked into Stellenbosch and moved into Lindushof. The home, built by Jan Beyers, had by then served the family as a Town House for several years, although some rooms were rented to Stellenbosch University students. When they sold the house it went on to become a student girl’s dormitory and today having been rebuilt is known as ‘Heemstede’. The large home, situated on four acres, was a legendary showpiece in the town. It had three gates, front, back, and a separate path to the smoking room. There were beautiful gardens surrounded by tall pine trees. Peacocks and Cranes strutted across the lawns, and occasionally a small monkey could be seen peeking through the oak leaves. Some pine trees had to be removed simply to allow for the furniture to be brought in, and later for a tennis court to be built. Lindushof also had its own dairy to produce butter and milk for it’s owners from cows that roamed the open land lower down the hill. Once Lord and Lady Claredon, then Governor General, who had come to open the agricultural show of which Oupa was the chairman, visited there and a full-scale orchestra was set up in the garden to entertain the dozens of guests who had come for the afternoon.

As a farmer Johan Hendrik, or ‘Oupa’ as was he was become to be known, had a wide range of interests. He was a keen participant in agricultural shows where, amongst other things, he became a champion at racing his cart and horses. During the twenties and the thirties he worked his way up to becoming a director of the Paarl Board of Executors, and subsequently to serve on the board of the Stellenbosch District and Boland Bank. As if not busy enough he spent six years as a member of the Stellenbosch Divisional Council as well as the School Board. He represented Hottentots-Holland electorate in the Provisional Council and was on the Western Province Executive Committee for twenty years. Oupa also earned himself a position as a governor of the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and Annalise proudly recalls that the her family owned one of the first radios in Stellenbosch.
At the same time Johanna, or ‘Ouma,’ became an active member of the community, becoming a member of the Hospital Board; a member of the Girl Guide Movement and the Voortrekker movement; a committee member of the Stellenbosch Golf Club and Tennis Club and a representative of the ‘Skakel’ committee and the ‘Federale Raad.’ During the war she joined the Civilian Force and served with the Radar Special Signals battalion in Green Point. After the war she opened a small gift shop in Stellenbosch where, amongst other things, they sold clothes mostly made by hand at Lindushof.
But Oupa was as much a warrior as a businessman. His military career began during the First World War when he served in the army in South West Africa (now Namibia). He maintained an interest in military affairs and was responsible for the creation of the Regiment Western Province. He was very involved in the citizen’s force where as Lieutenant Colonel in command of the Regiment Western Province he received King George V1 Coronation Medal in 1937. In 1940 he volunteered for service in the South African Army as was taken on full-time with the rank of Lt. Colonel. At different times during the war he commanded bases in Walfish Bay and Durban.

It was while serving in the Coast Watch that he heard of Saldanha for the first time. In 1942 Field Marshall Rommel’s success in the North had made the Suez Canal very unsafe, and furious preparations were being made to contain the flotilla of Allied ships passing our shores. At the time many of the South African harbours were largely maintained for the ships of the allied forces to at anchor and unwind. British submarines, minefields, searchlights, a primitive form of radar and gigantic cannons, some of which dated back to before the First World War, were used in the defence of the harbours and although German submarines claimed many ships out at sea there was never a direct attack within them.

But space was becoming a problem. Saldanha Bay was an ideal location, being one of the largest enclosed bodies of water on the African coast. Historians have remarked that it is a wonder that the colony had not been established in the convenient bay, but the near total lack of fresh water had stood in the way. Prime Minister Field Marshal Jan Smuts ordered Oupa, then Lieutenant Colonel Wicht, post-haste to Saldanha to take command of the sub-fortress responsible for the defense of the bay. Overnight the centuries old fishing was transformed into a hive of military activity, and no expense was spared laying on a pipeline from the Berg River, forty kilometers away. The South African Engineers surveyed the line and the Army, including some of the reservists and members of Oupa’s Regiment Western Province, performed the task. Despite the odds against it, the mammoth undertaking was completed in less than a year, and Oupa celebrated by tasting the first glass of water in Saldanha that had not been collected off a roof or drawn from a well. While stationed there he and Ouma lived in the Hoedjiesbaai hotel and at different times their son, Johan, and daughters Louise and Annalise visited them there. For a while Louise was stationed there as a radar operator.

Later, as the war drew to close in 1945 he was posted to ‘Zonderwater.’ the largest Italian P.O.W. camp within the Allied forces where 63,000 prisoners lived in tents. There he served under Col. H. F. Prinsloo as the P.O.W discharge officer.

After the war his interests partially returned to farming and in 1924 he arranged for the Boland Bank to fund William Winshaw to establish the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, and later, during 1953, to rather reluctantly lend his son Johan the money pur the purchase the farm, Pienaarspoort in Saldanha which he thought would never pay it’s own way.
Ouma and Oupa retired to their home ‘Af-en-Tu’ in Gordon’s’ Bay where he carried on to became a member of the Gordon’s Bay counsel. At 78 he did in Cape Town where Annalise’s husband, Dr. Mick Baily, was treating him for a liver dysfunction. Three years later Ouma died in Gordon’s Bay aged 77.

Louise and Sonny du Plessis

Louise du Plessis


Impressionable, young, in UK a year
I visit the Tower of London
To see the largest diamond, ever –
Our very own Cullinan.

That mammoth, gem was from SA
It has been mined right here.
Across the whole wide world, it
Simply had no peer.

Of course the UK bought our treasure
They needed to revamp their crown
To glitter and shine on State Occasions
And stun all London Town.

Divided into sparkling gems –
Most beautiful ever seen,
Which now become the Crown jewels
And worn by every Queen.

The crown, scepter, the orb and necklace
A fantastic sight to behold –
All firmly set for ever and ever
In our SA gold.

I stood there staring with pride and all
Our Cullinan had done
I wanted to boast and shout, “I too
Am from SA, in the sun”.

Instead I turned now to the Cullinan
And wondered who had found it?
They’d made a model in glass in a case
And you could walk around it.
It was the size of a miner’s fist
A hand that dug all day
With sinews and knuckles on top –
The other half sheared away.

I’d heard it tell it came from far
All through the heavenly void
Hitching a ride through outer space
Upon an asteroid.

Which struck the earth with such a crash
It split the diamond in two.
The one half flew behind some rocks –
It’s twin into the blue.

Now, looking at it in disbelief
I heard a hollow laugh
“Some day” it rumbled on, “I know
You’ll find the other half!”

Oh that was all so long ago
But anchored in my mind
That somehow, somewhere the other half
I would most surely find.

So back in our beloved land
I got on with my life
And I did the things I had to do
As a mother and a wife.

I ran around supporting my boys
From early dawn till night
Attending to the three of them –
My pride and my delight.

My boys grew up so fast, my spouse
Atop the corporate tree
Depended for their daily needs
On burdened, busy me.

In spite of homework, food and clothes
And all that running around,
There lurked in my subconscious mind
That diamond to be found.

But when vacation time came around
We always went away.
Somewhere to swim, relax, have fun
Where boys could play all day.

No matter where we went for hols
The coast or anywhere
My search continued all the time –
Maybe it would be there.

To dig in mountain crags and caves
I had a metal pick –
When not in use to chop or dig was
Used as, a walking stick.

I had no luck of course, the gem
Remained inside my mind.
Maybe some-other time, I knew
That diamond I would find.

The years flew by, my beloved died.
The bys had kids of their own.
By now I was an old Grand-ma
And living quite alone.

But I had plenty to dream about –
I had traveled far and wide.
Criss-crossed our country too, but still
I had a secret to hide.

Oh yes, I had a mission still –
To find that precious stone.
Just lying somewhere, waiting for me
Now that I was alone.

At nigh I’d toss and roll around
And think of many ways
To finally find the other half
In my remaining days.

Well, that was it, I knew at once
The time was here and now
To go on searching, fulfill my dream
And find that gem, somehow.

Yes, no more castles in the air –
Now was the time to act.
So go out there and do something
It is a simple fact.

I’d often heard the people tell –
Explain and rant and rave
About the fabulous experience of
The “Singing Pebble Cave”.

“It’s true” they’d say. “We heard the pebbles
Sing their song of the sea
Inside the cave and lying down –
No closer could we be”.

I’d heard them say that hoards of pebbles
From right across the world
Gathered in there, hummed their song
When waves across them swirled.

Now that was something I’d never heard
Could not believe my ears.
That too, is what I wanted to hear
In my remaining years.

The cave was on our wildest coast
And miles form anywhere
So that is why in all my life
I had just not been there.

So go to the cave and hear for yourself
Convince yourself its true
And maybe you’ll find your precious stone
Just lying waiting for you.

With no idea just where it was
I had to consult a map.
Then phoned the towns nearest Band B –
A place to eat and nap.

The following day I packed my bag
Determined to get there.
I got into my car and hoped
I’d find that town somewhere.

I drove the whole day, map on lap
And found the little town –
At Band B where I had booked
I simply dossed down.

I had a deep and restful sleep
And with some petrol still
I sped off long before the dawn
My mission to fulfill.

I drove until the road ran out
Against a mighty dune
So, out I got and made the beach by
The light of a still full moon.

When on the beach, the moon went sown
The sun began to rise –
A truly breath-taking moment for me
Oh, what a magical surprise!

For, I was on a snow-white beach
Which filled me with emotion –
For on and on it went to where
The mountain kissed the ocean.

Now that is where the pebble cave
I had been told, would be
Between the sloping, plunging mountain
And the crashing sea.

My aim was now at last in sight
And well within my reach
I doubled my pace and hurried along
The snow-white sandy beach.

I made the spot where mountain and sea
Embrace and hug each other
And mighty swells turn into waves
Which follow one another.

To crash and smash against the rocks
Forming a rainbow spray
Which flies so high, it turns the sun
Into a rainy day.

I hurry now to find a pause
Before the next big wave
So, knock me down, I see right there
The singing, pebble cave.

I slip and slide across the rocks
And run for shelter inside
I shed my clothes and crawl right in
Away from the crashing tide.

The pebble cave is beyond the rocks
Against the mountain side
Obscured by crags and waving grass
A lovely place to hide.

For years it has been the gathering place
Of pebbles from everywhere
Around the world, tumbled and tossed and
Deposited right in there.

To form a multi-coloured carpet –
A most astonishing thing
For each one has a story to tell
As together they sing.

Now that I heard with my own ears
Reposing inside the cave
As every now and then there came
An unexpected wave.

Each pebble has its very own sound
Uniting them in song
When disturbed and moved by bigger waves
Which suddenly came along.

I had forgotten, a round full moon
Brings along Spring Tide
So that was why the waves now reached
The pebble cave inside.

Allowing each one to join in their
Mysterious song of the sea
Which I was now so privileged to hear
Oh lucky, lucky me!

Now suddenly the sun disappeared
And darkness filled the cave
Without warning we where now swamped
By an enormous wave.

Submerged and tumbled all I heard
Was “help, help, help”
Littered by pebbles, as I was trapped
By a piece of kelp

That piece of kelp was riding the wave
As it came crashing in.
It knocked me over and trussed me up
There was no way to win.

Propelled I was, now all the way
Till it was spent again.
Receded, with-drew and left poor me
Just one big mess of pain.

Right at the back of the pebble cave
Where rocks now tumbled down
I found myself right on my back -
At least I did not drown.

Escape I must and wondered how
I thought while lying down
When I was struck by a falling rock
Which hit me on the crown.

I saw a million stars, and thought
I must be surely dead.
Already I have a crown of rock
Upon my aching head.

But in a flash I sat up-right –
For there I heard that laugh
“Haw-haw, I told you once before
You’d find the other half”.

I grabbed the rock with both my hands
And brought it to my eyes
Could hardly believe just what I saw –
My biggest ever surprise.

The sparkling light, so dazzling and bright
Which beamed straight from within?
Came from the diamond, embedded in rock –
The other half of Cullinan.

I recognized it straight away
I’d seen its twin before.
In London Tower, so long ago –
I had to search no more.

Now cradling the rock against my chest
I had to get away
And show someone what I’d found
Before the end of day.

I crawled and struggled upon my knees
And one remaining hand,
Until I made the entrance and saw
The beach with white sea-sand.

The receding tide had hardened the beach so
I hurried to my car,
Still parked behind the highest dune
Luckily not too far.

I hopped into my car and sped away
Driving like a maniac for
The Cullinan upon my lap was worthy of
The speed of a Cadillac.

On reaching town, I drove to the bank –
The only place with a vault.
The fact that I looked like a tramp was
Certainly not my fault.

I burst in shouting, “The manager please”
“An escaping lunatic?”
The people ducked on seeing my rock or
“Maybe a robbery trick?”

“A rock instead of a stolen gun
Whatever will be next?”
I had them all wide-eyed with fear
And certainly perplexed.

The manager too, was struck quite dumb
Confronted now by me.
He thought I had been ship-wrecked
And washed-up by the sea.

With sea-weed dangling from my hair
I gave the boss my rock
“Oh please look at the heart of this –
I promise you a shock”.

He blanched at what he saw in disbelief
As my story unfurled.
“My goodness” he said, “Surely the biggest
diamond in all the world”.

“So what is it you want me to do
With this fantastic thing,
That you so un-expectedly and
Casually brought right in?”

“I request you call the Magistrate,
A lawyer and a Quack.
The latter will know – should I pass out
Just how to bring me back”.

“I want them here as witnesses
To what I have to say.
I have a mission to complete
Before the end of this day.”

His cell-phone squeaked and very soon
I was surrounded by folk
Who thought that this was just a silly
April Fool’s joke.

By now the time had come for me
To open my ,mouth and speak.
The articulate way in which I spoke
Convinced I was no freak.

With wrapped attention they listened now
To what I had to say.
My tale intrigued and stunned them all –
And certainly made their day.

I handed the rock to the Boss of the bank
I could no longer wait.
“Secure it in your vault and please
Inform the Head of State.”

I paused a while and then carried on
“ A diamond found is not
Your property, so here in front of you all
I donate my precious lot”.

“And tell him to auction it on the Internet
So find the highest bidder –
Across the whole wide world,
And then my plan to consider”.

“My plan is to build proper homes
With all that money in hand.
Yes, houses for poor and needy with it
Across our beautiful land”.

“Replace poverty, hunger and crime
With houses, mile upon mile.
And bring back to all our faces
Smile upon smile upon smile”.

“Now, let me sign what I have said
Your secretary wrote it down.
I must get back to Band B now,
Some distance from the Town”.

I shook them all by hand and said,
“Thank you for coming here,
To share my tale and see my gem”.
I even shed a tear.

To Doc. I said, “Quite some old doll
All of eighty seven.
Still treasure hunting with only one foot,
The others already in Heaven”.

“Well Sirs, that’s it, please see my plan
Is truly carried out.
No crowns for Queens, but homes for people
That’s what Cullinan’s about”.

“Good-bye”, I said, and left and drove
Towards the setting sun.
I’d had an exhausting day but still
Wanted to see that one.

The sun was going down behind
A far off lonely hill.
“You lucky chap”, I thought, “no aches no pains
And never, never ill”.

Why can’t we be like that, just rise
And shine to spread our light.
To make the world a better place
The sleep in peace at night?

Just then my car began to shudder
And grind to a dusty halt.
I had omitted to fill her up –
It was entirely my fault.

So there I sat, abandoned, alone
Too tired to be sad,
I Merely shut my eyes and thanked the Lord for
The incredible day I’d had.

Swathed in scarlet glory.
“Farewell all friends, Take Care, Full Stop”
Thus ends the Cullinan story.

Sunny du Plessis

SELDOM has a university owed more to the vision and bloody-mindedness of one man than Wits owes to Professor Daniel Jacob “Sonny” du Plessis, who has died at the age of 81 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Du Plessis became vice-chancellor and principal of the University of the Witwatersrand in 1978, at a time when there was a vigorous debate over the kind of institution it should become. There were 11 340 students, and the Milner Park campus could clearly take no more. One strongly supported argument was that Wits should make the best of this, and set it sights on a purely academic role. It should model itself on Oxford, and remain a small, elitist institution, sacrificing all other concerns to the purist goal of academic excellence. Du Plessis was totally opposed to elitism. He saw Wits as part of a developing country with obligation to the entire community. To realise this obligation, Wits would have to grow. But to grow it would need space. And here, it seemed to everyone except to Du Plessis himself, was an immovable obstacle. Other than splitting the campus, an option supported by his predecessor Guerino Bozzoli but rejected by Du Plessis, the only way to expand was to take over the show-grounds immediately West of the campus.

This was far easier said than done. Previous approaches had all met with a flat ‘No’. The grounds were owned by the Johannesburg City Council and leased on a long-term basis by the Agricultural Society, which, to add to these apparently insurmountable difficulties, had just obtained an extension of its lease.

Du Plessis commissioned academic, physical and financial plans for Wits to strengthen his hand against the government, the council and the Agricultural Society in the interminable arguing, persuading and negotiating that followed. Du Plessis was born into an Afrikaans family in Paarl on May 17 1918, and attended Paarl Boys High. There is no doubt that his ability to speak the taal helped make his relations with the government considerably easier than they were under Bozzoli, even if he refused, as much as his predecessor had done, to give an inch on matters of principle. The greatest example of this was his immediate and adamant refusal to countenance the government’s planned quota system, which would have severely limited the number of black students at Wits. Du Plessis made it clear to the relevant ministers that Wits would have truck with such registration, and in face of fierce opposition from other universities too, it was quietly shelved.

It was his ability to swap jokes – which he found hard because not a man of ribald, back-slapping humour – and talk business in Afrikaans no less than his steadfast refusal to accept deafeat, that finally won the day. Wits West Campus was born, and Du Plessis’s version of an inclusive university that would serve the community at large became possible.

By the time that he left in 1983, student numbers had risen to 15 790. They subsequently rose to almost 20 000, but have now dipped slightly to around 18 000. Without the West Campus, nowhere near such numbers would have been possible. Without Du Plessis, it is believed there would have been no West Campus. The qualities that enabled to accomplish this did not make him an easy man to get on with. His leadership style was hands-on and autocratic, and based on a confidence in himself that he was so unshakeable it verged on arrogance. He was reserved and sometimes appeared cold and distant. At weekly meetings with deputy vice-chancellors and registrars, he made precise notes in his diary of the tasks he expected them to complete. He would check each person’s report against his notes at subsequent meetings, and woe betide those who failed to deliver. He would roam the campus with white chalk every Sunday, marking anything he felt needed attending to with a cross. At 7am every Monday he called the estate manager, who then spent the rest of the morning rushing around looking for white crosses to ensure that whatever needed fixing was fixed before Du Plessis went for another walk.

He could rile his staff horribly when in the mood. One head of Department felt Du Plessis had cast aspersions on his honesty. He bounded up to the vice-chancellor’s office and told Du Plessis that if he ever spoke to him like that again, he’d knock his block off.

Du Plessis’s driving passion was surgery. He trained at the University of Cape Town and, while still a young man, first assistant to the professor of surgery, and senior surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital. At age 39, he was appointed professor of surgery at the Johannesburg General Hospital. The department of surgery at Wits was a shambles; it’s clinical and academic status and reputation at rock bottom. He transformed it into one of the greatest surgery departments anywhere, an achievement attested to by a steady stream of distinguished visiting surgeons. Today the departments picture gallery is an international Who’s Who of surgery, with pictures of top surgeons from around the world who passed through the lecture halls.

Du Plessis attached enormous importance to research, and under him the number of scientific research publications soared. As well as being a top surgeon, he was a brilliant teacher, particularly at undergraduate level. A series of lectures to undergraduates in the last three month of their final year were on the ethics of medicine were always packed, although they came at peak swatting time.

Du Plessis fostered the idea of getting practicing surgeons to lecture part time and instituted post-graduate teaching, unheard of before. He started numerous publications and annual congresses that have played a critical role in advancing surgery in South Africa. Again his prodigious accomplishments were characterised by a dictatorial style that earned him the nickname ‘God’. One story is that he made some remark to Dr. Moses Suzman during a ward round and a student piped up: ‘Thus spoke God to Moses.’ Another student slipped a note under his door that read: ‘Dear Prof Du Plessis, tomorrow will be Tuesday, if you agree.’ These stories may apocryphal, but they reflect the way he was regarded.

He respected staff and students who stood up to him, but bullied those who showed weakness. During ward rounds he roasted students who had time to do the required tests on patients. To escape a tongue lashing during these rounds, students would sometimes deposit patients in other parts of the hospital, usually in the x-ray section.

Du Plessis was a captain in the SA Medical Corps during World War Two, serving in a field ambulance in the 6th SA Armoured Division in the British Eighth British Army and the American Fifth Army in North Africa and Italy. He is survived by two sons and his wife, Louise, born Wicht, to whom he was married for 53 years.

Chris Barron

Thursday, 14 June 2007


In 1976 Thomas Cook rated Lanzerac one of the 300 best hotels in the world, and 'by far the prettiest in South Africa.' The elegant old Cape Dutch homestead, preserving the mellow atmosphere of a more gracious age, stands overlooking the lovely Yonker's Hoek valley and is surrounded by lands that have been farmed for three hundred years, and vineyards from which wines, including their own famous rosé served in distinctive skittle-shaped bottles, have been fermented for over two hundred. The food served in the restaurant is legendry as well and the virtue of one of their chefs, Cookie, renowned for her bobotie was celebrated by Laurence van der Post in his book, ‘African Cooking.’In 1976
For 230 years however the farm and buildings were known as Schoongezight (Beautiful View) and as the home for several generations of the South African Wicht family.

It’s history dates back to 1692 when Simon van der Stel, Governor of the Cape, granted 21 morgen (170,667 sq. meters) of virgin soil to three freed slaves - Manuel and Antonia of Angola, and Louis, of Bengal - and partly to Isaac Schryver. The latter, before taking out free papers, had been a Dutch East India Company soldier, a sergeant, later promoted to ensign. This was no parade-ground Sergeant however: Schryver could prospect for copper, chase run-away slaves, brave lions and barter cattle with the Hottentots. As Ensign, he had led a party of 22 men nigh on 500 miles into Hottentot territory, to come within five days' march of the shadowy Kobona - to be known, when later they collided with the Colonists, as Kaffers - and returned with all safe, and a thousand head of cattle besides - a record for any cattle-bartering expedition, especially since not all the bartering was beneficial for both parties. He married Marie Elizabeth van Coningshoven and together they named the property Schoongezight. Shortly after the marriage however wanderlust, or possibly shortage of capital, drove the adventurous ensign Schryver north to prospect for copper once again. The escapade was short-lived however. He returned home after a few years and eventually died on the farm, to be survived by his wife. Marie Elizabeth later married Jacob Groenewald and the farm remained in their family for nearly a century. In 1790 it passed to a distant relative named of C.J. Alberty, and was later transferred to C.J. Fick - a relation of the Ficks who built the Burgerhuis on the Braak in Stellenbosch. Coenraad Fick set about building the present house in 1830. He lived until 1841, after which P.C. van der Bijl bought the farm. In 1849 the property passed on to his son, who in turn farmed there until his death in 1886.

During 1887 a portion of Schoongezight was bought by Johan Hendrik Wicht, grandson of Hans Heinrich, the first Wicht to arrive in South Africa, and the second in a line of Johan Hendriks that continue till today. He subsequently bought further sections of the farm until in 1893 he owned the entire 21 morgen estate. The home with it’s tall slave bell and neo-classical main gable had a façade of great dignity. Almost completely hidden by oak trees, set as it is in a spacious courtyard formed by the outbuildings and the Jonkershoek Mountains far behind, it was a reminder of an elegant past.

At the time the land that extended from Mostertsrdrift and across the road to Jonkerhoek, was still primarily a dairy farm. Johan Hendrik and his wife, Susanna Johanna Wentzel, set about following the example of other farmers in the region by promoting the production of wine. They had four children on the farm, their eldest son, once again named Johan Hendrik, being born there in 1888. Johan Hendrik the second died in 1908 and his son, Johan Hendrik the third, then just twenty, took hold of the reigns. After his Mother’s death in 1914 ownership of the property was transferred to him.
In 1918 he married Johanna Claasens, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Claasens of Victoria West. As a farmer he had a wide range of interests ranging from being the chairman of the agricultural society, a member of the board of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, to being a banker as well as responsible for the creation of the Regiment Western Province, by dint of which, as Lieutenant Colonel in command of the regiment, he received the King George V1 Coronation Medal in 1937.

Three of their four children were born at Schoongezicht . The first, Joan, was born the Fifteenth of February, 1917, the second, Louis, on the Fifteenth of March, 1919, and their son, also Johan Hendrik, on the Twentieth of December, 1920. Those however were the years of the great depression and farming was not easy. There was no market for fruit, and the Union Government had placed restrictions on wine production in South Africa. His father’s business sense had taught him that when farming proved unsuccessful there was no point try to battle the odds, so by the time Johan Hendrik the fourth was born the farm was in the process of being sold to the aristocratic Mrs. Violet English for the princely sum of £18,000.
Another farm in the region was also known as Schoogezight. That piece of property belonged to John X. Merriman, the last prime minister of the Cape Colony before the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, and the coincidence had been a bone of contention between the two families, so Mrs. English set about changing the name to Lanzerac, after a wine growing region in France, and producing wines under that name.

Mrs. English died in 1929 and the farm was in the hands of the bank unti1 1935, when a Mr. Tribelhorn bought it. He in turn sold it to Angus Buchanan who enlarged and improved the cellars and in 1947 the first estate bottled wines were produced. His popular reds won a perpetual floating trophy for eight successive years and his white wines did nearly as well. It was Angus Buchanan who really put Lanzerac wines on the map and who by the mid-40’s was producing top-quality award-winning sherries and brandies as well. In 1958 he sold the farm to David Rawdon who spent a year converting fowl pens, stables, cowsheds and kraals into a hotel that opened its doors on August 26, 1959. The business suffered slightly during the 80’s and there was talk of developing it into timeshare, but it was saved in nick of time by Christo Wiese, ex-Matie, wine lover and wine lover in 1990, "because I wanted a wine farm". Wiese invested enough money to restore the buildings to the fine, simple style it had had in the past accustomed to. Today the oak trees still provide the same shade and the kitchens the same comfort they had grown accustomed to.