Visitors connect with family history

Pagel House in Aberdeen was once home to the largest private zoo in South Africa, and current owner Lyn Dugmore was delighted last week to welcome as guests the granddaughter and great grandson of the zoo’s owner.

Yolanda Wilke brought her son Jayden (13) on a nostalgia trip to introduce him to his family heritage before the family emigrates to New Zealand later this year.

Francois ‘Frank’ Wilke bought the house, a Victorian ostrich palace then known as Claremont House, in the late 1940s, and established his zoo. Wilke was a great admirer of circus master Wilhelm Pagel, and after Pagel’s death, he bought the Pagel Circus and moved it to Aberdeen in 1951. He renamed the house Pagel House, and also bought the marble name plaques which stand either side of the gate from Pagel’s estate.

The lions of Pagel House were well known, and one local couple were even married in the lions’ enclosure, with seven lionesses sitting in as bridesmaids! A photograph of the wedding takes pride of place in the hallway of Pagel House, alongside many other photos and albums which Yolanda has given to Lyn.

Yolanda’s father Francois was born and grew up in Aberdeen, and was quite at home with the animals. “He was the youngest boy ever to go into a lion’s cage, when he was 12,” said Yolanda.

Frank Wilke, who was also a prominent businessman in the town and mayor for a term, died in the house when Francois was just 15.

Yolanda first came to Aberdeen with her father at the age of 10, and saw the outside of the house. “When we walked through the town to the cemetery, several older residents stopped us for a chat, as they recognised ‘Klein Frankie’,” she reminisced.

Francois later came back to Aberdeen in 1996 and 1999, and made a video of the house, including the interior. Yolanda brought a copy of that for Lyn, as well as a fascinating promotional video of Aberdeen from 1953, sponsored by Rembrandt van Rijn tobacco company.

Yolanda and Jayden visited the cemetery, saw the graves of her great grandparents and grandparents, as well as her father’s elder brother who died at the age of seven months.

“I have some great memories of my heritage to take with me to New Zealand,” said Jayden.

Farmhouse burnt to the ground

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A young Aberdeen family has been left devastated after a blaze totally destroyed their home on Belmont farm last Tuesday night. The farm is about 7km out of Aberdeen, just off the Willowmore road.

The whole area had been without power on Tuesday, due to planned Eskom maintenance. Farmer Jannie Lategan decided to join his wife and sons Jan-Hendrik (10) and Leon (6) at their house in Graaff-Reinet for the night, and so only the farm workers were on Belmont.

At about 7.30pm, one of the workers noticed flames in the kitchen, and contacted Lategan. The Aberdeen police and fire service responded quickly, and were soon on the scene, with many other members of the local community.

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The Aberdeen fire crew had only the Toyota Hilux fire service bakkie available, as apparently the main truck was in the workshop in Graaff-Reinet. According to one of those present, the tank of the bakkie can only hold 500 litres of water, and the pressure was very low, “like turning on a tap in the kitchen”.

When the fire reached the ammunition stored in the house, the resulting explosion caused the firefighters to retreat for a while, but by this stage, despite the best efforts of the fire crew and other helpers, the blaze was too intense for them to stop the fire spreading through the rest of the house.

When Jannie and Didi arrived about 9.30pm, they could only watch helplessly, as twelve years’ worth of memories shrivelled to nothing. A fire truck from Graaff-Reinet arrived shortly after them, but all the crew could do was dampen down the smouldering ruins.

The next morning, Jannie and Didi were at the farm, to see if anything could be salvaged. “We have lost everything,” said Didi, who said she had not slept all night. “I am just thankful that my children are safe, although they are very traumatised.”

The family has been staying with Jannie’s parents on their nearby farm, and despite the tragedy, life on Belmont has had to go on, with stock to be fed and cared for.

They went to George and Mossel Bay last weekend to stock up with new clothes, and the boys are now back at school. The ruins will be flattened and the house rebuilt, although they don’t know when. For now, they are thankful that they have a place to stay with Jannie’s parents, and are very grateful for all the practical help and well-wishes that they have received.

The cause of the fire is not known, although it seems to have started in the kitchen. There is speculation that a piece of equipment could have shorted, possibly due to a surge when the power came back on.

New kit for soccer teams

Destroyers Football Club in Aberdeen was founded two years ago, but until now, they have struggled with makeshift kit.

Recently, contractor G S Civils responded to the chairman’s plea for sponsorship, and the company has donated a full set of kit for the teams.

“We are very grateful to Greg Sumner of G S Civils for this generous sponsorship,” said a smiling manager, George Yalolo. “Our aim is to get the youngsters away from drugs and alcohol, and the smart new kit is an added attraction for the players.”

Pietie Coetzee, site manager for G S Civils, presented the team with their new shirts last Sunday, ahead of the friendly game scheduled against Black Arrows of Graaff-Reinet.

The club caters for both boys and girls, with u.17 and u.15 teams in the Beyers Naude League. Yalolo has been receiving help and guidance from Black Arrows, a successful team which itself was pleading for donations earlier in the year.

Laptops at Luxolo

Thanks to the initiative of senior teacher Christo Frazenburg and Community Education and Training (formerly ABET) computer teacher Henry Mintoor, Luxolo Intermediate School in Aberdeen has been a beneficiary of Vodacom’s programme to provide computers to rural schools.

The school was been given 21 laptops for its computer centre –one for the teacher, and 20 for learners. Mintoor volunteered to work, without pay, with the learners.

As most of the classes have 40 or more learners, it was decided to run a programme in the afternoons, for learners from grades 7, 8 and 9 to work on the laptops in small groups. Mintoor started by teaching the learners some basic computer theory, and they are currently working on creating word documents.

The grade 9 learners have already typed assignments for history- while in many schools this is the norm, it is a first for an Aberdeen school to have this facility for the learners.

“We are helping our learners embrace the fourth industrial revolution of technology,” explained Frazenburg proudly. “If we don’t do this, the school and the learners will be left behind,” added Mintoor.

Several of the children do have access to a laptop at home, but most admitted to only using them for games, or the internet. Grade 7 learner Owam Dumakude shared her excitement and interest in the course. “We are learning to underline words, and change the colour today,” she said. “I didn’t know how to type and do this before we started the lessons.”

The children are working towards a qualification accredited by Umalusi, and have to complete a portfolio of work, and write exams.

The Rupert Foundation has agreed to provide internet connectivity for the school, which will enable the learners and teachers to make even more use of the facility. Principal Jan Mathiale added that the school has applied to Vodacom again, in the hope of receiving more laptops so that each child in the class can work individually.

Michael the Outsider Artist

Michael Pietersen (51) from Aberdeen has been making wire sculptures since he was a schoolboy, selling a few pieces to make extra money. His talent and ingenious use of recycled materials recently brought his work to the attention of retired interior designer Ian Reed, who is excited to help Michael market his work.

Michael had little formal education, leaving at the age of 16 with a standard 4 certificate. He worked in Cape Town for a few years then returned to the Karoo to take over his father’s job as a farm labourer.

A few years ago, he fell and injured his back while repairing a windpump. He also contracted TB, and spent some months in hospital. Although fully recovered from the TB, he is no longer able to work, and needs crutches to get around. He was thrilled to receive a new RDP house in Aberdeen in 2016, and now spends most of his days working on his wire pieces.

These are not just simple animals or bicycles, but complex models, often with a story attached. One piece which has pride of place on Reed’s veranda is a model farmyard, originally intended to be just a bird cage. There are sheep and goats, covered in animal skin, a horse covered with vinyl offcuts, and a windpump with blades made from an old aerosol can. Discarded imitation Christmas tree branches have been used for grass. The whole construction is mounted on an old ironing board, and “there is even a stairway to the beach,” said Michael proudly.

An Outsider Artist is usually someone with no formal training, often using unusual materials. Michael works solely from his head, and as such, many of his pieces are out of proportion, but this adds to their charm. “I asked him to make me an ostrich, but the head looked more like a flamingo,” explained Reed, who showed Michael a photo of an ostrich to help him visualise the flat-topped head.

With an outlet planned at a new craft shop in Aberdeen, and inspiration from Reed’s ideas and mentorship, Michael hopes to reach a new market and be able to better support his family.

Award for local mohair producers

Father-and-son team Gert and Pieter Jordaan from the Aberdeen district were honoured recently by Mohair Growers South Africa.

At the Miyuki Keori function held at the Drostdy Hotel in Graaff-Reinet last month, the Jordaans received the prestigious Champion Winter Clip award for 2018. The Miyuki awards are seen by many farmers as the pinnacle of achievement, as they recognise compliance with industry sustainability as well as accuracy of classing and marking.

This is not their only accolade in recent years: in 2017 they won the Daidoh Trophy for the farmers with the highest average price for their summer kid mohair clip.

Gert has been farming on Nuwerust for 37 years, and is the third generation on a farm which has been in the family since the 1930s. Pieter studied at Grootfontein Agricultural College after leaving school, and worked for CMW wool brokers for three years before joining his father nine years ago.

They have about 2 000 Angora goats and about 1 700 merino sheep on their three farms, which cover about 10 000 hectares.

When asked about the secret of their success, the clear answer from both father and son was dedication. “This starts from the beginning,” explained Pieter, who along with most farmers, spends many nights out in the cold when the goats are kidding. Good genetics are also very important, and the Jordaans are registered stud farmers. Gert also stressed the vital importance of the preparation of the clip and its classing. 

“We also have committed and experienced staff members, who take pride in their work,” said Pieter. “Some of the men have been working on the farm since I was a boy”.

Academic evening at Aberdeen Secondary

Grade 12 learners at Aberdeen Secondary School were treated to a formal academic evening last week, with the aim of motivating and encouraging them as they prepare for their final exams.

Wayne du Plessis, a retired school psychologist who has been involved in successful intervention programmes at the school, introduced former teachers successful past pupils, who were invited as special guests. Hans Hendriks, COO of the municipality, attended on behalf of the municipal manager.

Hendriks gave some words of encouragement to the learners, to persevere and make their own decisions on their future. He urged them not to be discouraged or distracted by others.

Leon Jaftha, a bass guitarist who has been involved in motivational work at the, gave a lively performance, which the guests thoroughly enjoyed.

The keynote speaker was Laszlo Maya, who is well-known in the Graaff-Reinet community for his work with the Maya Deaf Foundation. Left deaf after a childhood illness, Maya was fortunate to receive a cochlear implant, but spent his childhood feeling ‘different’ to his peers. He excelled at school, and was head boy and a high academic achiever. He told the guests how he sank into a deep depression after a setback at university, but picked himself up and returned the following year.  However the #FeesMustFall protests were in full swing, and his deafness made it impossible to cope with voicenote lectures. Despite failing the year, he did not give up, and went back the next year – not only did he graduate, but he was also recognized as one of Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans for 2017. “It took me five years to finish a three-year degree, but those five years taught and gave me more than those three years or society’s plan for my life ever could have,” said Maya.

“In the end, when you have finally reached your goals, how many times you’ve fallen or how long it took won’t matter. What will matter is that you didn’t give up,” he concluded.

His address was very well received. Headgirl Marinda Maarman made a commitment on behalf of the grade 12s that they would indeed do their best, and each learner received a stationery pack from the school.

The evening concluded with some tasty eats for all, provided by the school.

Careers Day at Kamdebo Primary

The grade R learners at Kamdebo Primary School in Aberdeen put on a wonderful show for their parents and invited guests last week.

The children were encouraged to dress up, and if they follow their dreams, Aberdeen will have a wealth of policemen, doctors and nurses, teachers and Spingbok sportsmen in about 20 years’ time!

After a short welcoming address from Principal Daniel Pieterse, the assembled grade R classes gave a spirited rendition of the school song, accompanied by many of the parents and guests. Talks from the invited professionals were interspersed with songs and rhymes by the children, all greatly enjoyed by participants and audience.

Noluvo Feni, a social worker, involved the children with some interactive songs before addressing the parents. She stressed the importance of parents setting a good example to their children, and warned of the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Next to take to the stage was hockey player Saloma Booysen, Aberdeen’s first Springbok, and a past pupil of the school. Her message was simple- to dream big, and follow that dream.

Warrant Officer Naude Frazenburg from the detective branch warned the children to stay away from crime, adding that a criminal record would hinder their future opportunities.

Jennet Ralawe, retired nursing assistant, captivated the children with a demonstration of the various instruments used at the clinic. She reminded them about basic hygiene such as handwashing, and in an aside to the parents, reminded them to take their prescribed medication.

Malibongwe Sigwani, a dancer, told of how he was introduced to traditional dances as a child, and spoke of the discipline needed for dance.

In what was the highlight for most of the parents, some of the children were called forward and asked to say why they had chosen their profession. Most of them remembered what they had obviously practised, with the teachers wanting to help children learn, the policemen wanting to catch criminals and keep people safe, and the doctors and nurses wanting to make sick people better. One little boy was rather overcome by nerves, and to the delight of the audience, when he was asked by teacher Janaine Pieterse what he wanted to be, he replied, “A skelm”. This was obviously more exciting than the ambulance driver he was supposed to be!

The grade R teachers, Janaine Pieterse and Petro Jantjies, were assisted in the organisation by student teacher Melissa Saayman.

Drought relief for some Aberdeen farmers

Chris van Beljon, who founded the organisation Boere Droogtehulp SA NPC, made another very welcome delivery of fodder to Aberdeen last week.

To date, van Beljon has sent 19 loads to Aberdeen, in response to appeals from individual farmers.

There are many organisations raising money for drought relief, and there is some scepticism that not all of these are genuine. According to van Beljon, Boere Droogtehulp is the only organisation that does not ask the farmers for money. He posts appeals for funding, mainly for transport costs, on social media, and has stalls at farmers’ events and golf days to sell merchandise to raise money. Some of the fodder is donated by farmers in more fertile regions, and waste grass cutting for road maintenance has also been baled and sent.

He arranges deliveries to many drought-stricken areas of South Africa, and Aberdeen became a regular stop after his mother, who lives in the town, asked for help for some of those known personally to her.

“Each person who contacts me for help must nominate eight or nine others who are also in need,” said van Beljon, explaining that he would then arrange a delivery for that group. As well as feed for the livestock, he has also helped a farmer with a new solar water pump, given food and supplies, and assisted farm workers with donations of blankets, food and warm clothing.

Annette Verwey is one of the beneficiaries. “We had our last proper rain in 2014. From 2015 we have had to give supplementary food to our animals, and since 2016 we have been feeding all the sheep, as there is absolute nothing in the veld for them to eat,” she explained. “This drought is very severe, the worst I’ve ever seen. It breaks one not only financially but emotionally too,” she continued. “I am very grateful for the help I receive from Chris and his organisation, it is such a great relief when I get the message that a truck with food for us is on its way”.

Also very grateful for van Beljon’s help is Hanlie van Rensburg. “The drought sucks the life of animals and humans, but Chris is like an angel the Lord sent to earth,” said an emotional Hanlie. “Because of Chris, our animals live and therefore, we too can live.”

Spelling Aces at Aberdeen Full Service Primary

Kay-Lee Sedras, a grade 7 learner at Aberdeen Full Service Primary School, made her school very proud last weekend when she was selected to participate in the national finals of the WOW spelling competition.

Three of the school’s learners represented the Graaff-Reinet District at the competition held at Spandau Secondary School on 13 August, and Kay-Lee and Bramuché Sedras (grade 6) went to Port Elizabeth last weekend as part of the Sarah Baartman District team. The girls were accompanied by Afrikaans teacher Kevil Koester, who coached the team together with assistant teacher Jaco-Dean Jonas.

Kay- Lee achieved third place in Port Elizabeth, and she will be attending the national finals in Stellenbosch on the 19 October as a member of the Eastern Cape team.