John Watermeyer was born in Graaff-Reinet on 15 February 1929, the second child in a family of four boys and one girl.
He grew up on his parent’s farm Watervlei in the district, and attended Union Prep and then High School. It was at school that he first met Jean Margaret Murray, three years his junior, who would later become his wife.
During this time, he played rugby for the Union High first team for three years, and in reports in the Advertiser, he was described as “clearing time and again with touch kicks,” and “being a safe and judicious fly half”, with a wonderful drop kick. John also boxed for the school.
His brother-in-law Walter Murray recounted a story of how on one occasion, Union High went to play Jansenville, in an open truck, which was the usual way of travelling in those days. It rained all day and all night. The boys stayed at private houses in Jansenville on Saturday, Sunday and Monday until the truck could cross the Melk River, and the joyful team of boys returned to school only on the Tuesday morning!
After school, John went to Grootfontein Agricultural College, where he passed with flying colours. There he made wonderful friends, many of whom he is still in touch with, and who still get together to this day.
After Grootfontein John took what would now be called a gap year and branched out. He sold coffee for Glenton and Mitchell, and being forward looking, bought plots of land on the outskirts of Johannesburg. These he used later as security for loans when he bought ground.
Next he joined the Wool Growers Association, working mainly with sheep but also goats. Once again he made lifelong friends during this chapter of his life.
In 1953 he met up with Jean Margaret again, and in 1955 they were married and he took over the family farm, De Keur near Hofmeyer. This farm had two rivers running through it, and the river with the most constant water was on the wrong side for irrigating the lands. Never one to be beaten by a challenge, John did a marvelous job of building a siphon under the bigger river using petrol drums and concrete to get the water to the fertile lands.
However, this farm was not large enough for the whole Watermeyer family. John wanted to expand and so he looked around for a larger unit. After a lot of investigating he found a farm on the Kabusie River near Stutterheim. After many years there, stock theft problems amongst other considerations caused John to sell the farm, and the family moved to Bloemhof.
The family’s move sounds a little like another Great Trek – from the far side of Stutterheim to Graaff-Reinet was a journey of over 400km. John had two tractors each with a big trailer as well as a big truck. They moved everything – packed sky high – more than 400km at a tractor speed of only about 20km per hour!
The family stayed on Bloemhof for about a year and here John helped in the building of the dam. John took over the laying of pipe lines through the wall. This was no mean job as the ground had to be compacted to 96%, then the troughs dug open, pipes laid and concreted. He did all this and the cement overflows compacted too.
During the year on Bloemhof John was not idle in looking for another farm in all the neighbouring districts. Just then Doorndraai and Schoorsteenberg in the Aberdeen district came onto the market. Everyone was thrilled as Aberdeen is known as such a good farming district with a wonderful community.
While farming on Doorndraai, John was very involved with the town and district, serving on many associations, such as Soil Conservation, Farmers’ Association, and the Land Credit Board. When Alex got married John and Jean moved to Fourwinds where they lived before moving to Belmont, and he started farming actively again.
However, once again, just as he was tasked with building up the farms he had to cope with a severe drought, similar to the present one. And added to this adversity was the serious illness and very sad death of their son John Alex. But John and Jean were used to hardships and they made a success of everything through sheer determination and hard work.
They expanded again and bought Tandjiesview, and in 2005 moved to Aberdeen town. Their very capable daughters Colleen and Helen, with husbands Dickie and Graham, have taken over the farms. Between them children, they have blessed John and Jean with six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
John has been a very active member of the community playing cricket and golf, and played a major role in the running of the Aberdeen Club for many years. He also served as a chapel warden at St Mary’s and All Saints Anglican Church, where he still worships regularly.
He is still an active member of Probus in Graaff-Reinet, and thoroughly enjoys the monthly gatherings with his many friends.
To mark the occasion of his 90th birthday, Colleen and Helen organised a large party of family and friends at the Aberdeen Club on 23February for a birthday brunch. Many travelled from far to be part of the celebrations, a testimony to the important role John has played in so many lives. Instead of presents, Jean had asked for donations towards the work of the Graaff-Reinet Cancer Association, and they were thrilled to receive close to R3 000, much of it given anonymously.