Monday, August 13, 2012

SOUTH AFRICAN Family Vacations 1960's. Coffee Bay and Port St John's.


Xhosa people of the Transkei

Henry, Zackie
Charel, Quintin, Frikkie.

When we were kids my father could only get away during the winter months for two weeks ,so we use to go to warmer climates for vacation in August. My parents had five boys by this time .I was around 11 and Quintin was a baby.
Both my father and his brother Johannes, loved sea fishing so twice the Transkei was the holiday destination. The first time we went to Coffee Bay en the second time Port St John's.

Nelson Mandela

Transkei is where the second biggest South African Tribe -the Xhosa's-live  .The most famous Xhosa is surely the first African President of South Africa  Nelson Mandela .He was born near  Umtata (Mthatha) in 1918 and married his second wife, Winnie  there in 1958.

Umtata (Mthatha)

Rural Transkei

The Transkei is situated between Natal and the Eastern Cape. It borders on the Indian Ocean and  is known as the Wild Coast of Africa .In the early 60's it was a very rural  and the inhabitants still followed  the tribal life style. Men and woman painted their faces with clay and even washed their blankets in the red/brown  clay of the area to give it an unique color. The women wore  lots of copper bangles on their arms and some of the  women smoked pipe.  In the traditional way unmarried woman went bare breasted .Once they got married they would cover their breasts.

We drove from Johannesburg and met my uncle and his family in Umtata (Mthatha).We then drove to Coffee Bay on the Coast.

Coffee Bay

We arrived in Coffee Bay and found the house that we rented. It was a big colonial white washed  house with a big porch .It was very close to the ocean -as they advertised it -but an enormous sand dune in front prevented us from seeing the ocean.We had to walk quite a way to get around the dune to reach the beach . The house was located next to the only store for miles ,so we saw all the coming and going that went on in Coffee Bay.

Transkei 1963

Transkei Store.

To us as kids all this was fascinating. This was a Africa that we did not know. This was tribal Africa and they dressed different and spoke their own language .We could not communicate with them as we were use to Africans speaking English or Afrikaans in  Johannesburg. Daily they would come to the shop, after walking for miles to buy the stuff  they needed. They were just as intrigued with us, as we were with them. My Aunt Dina was fascinated by all the bangles the women wore. Their forearms would be covered from wrist to elbow in copper bangles that was put on when they were young girls. These bangles  would never be taken off again.

My father, uncle , some brothers and cousins went fishing all day and had a good time.The had a local Xhosa take them to the best locations and would spend the day on the rocks fishing. After a while everything smelled of fish! I don't remember the beach being that great either .I was more fascinated by the locals visiting the shop and spending the day there smoking their pipes or resting in the shade of the trees before starting their long walk back home.

A couple of years later my parents decided to give Port St John's a go. This is where the "muddy and mighty" Umzimvubu River mouths into the sea. My uncle Johannes and his wife Dina, joined and his  us once again. Their four  kids were Uys, Wilna, Annetjie and Gert. By this time our family was complete.Me the eldest was 13. Zackie, Frikkie, Charel, Quintin and Carin was a baby.

Port St John's 1963.
The town on the left looking up into the Umzimvubu River .

This is Port St. John's today .In the middle the river mouths into the ocean .On the  left bank is the town of Port St. John's.We rented two house on the hill of the right bank ,looking over the sea as well as the mouth of the river.

Those day my father drove an navy colored German made  Isabella Borgward station wagon with tan leather seats. We met my uncle at Kokstad and then decided to take a short cut from there to Port St John's. We were driving through a very desolate area of very high mountains and on a dirt road, when all of a sudden the car gave a hiccup and stopped in its tracks!
 I was not trilled as I was already feeling uncomfortable with driving through this uninhabited area instead of the main road- and now this....
 My uncle was ahead and it took him about an hour to realize we were not behind him .He then turned back ,and came looking for us. By this time it was already around 4:00 pm. He and my father tried  working on the car and realized it was the petrol pump that was giving trouble. It was getting late so they decided that my uncle would take the  wives and kids to Port St John's and try and find some mechanic to come and help us. Me and my two brothers,  Zackie and Frikkie as well as Uys, my cousin,  stayed behind with my father. He  was taking off the petrol pump and trying to fix it .He asked me to sit behind the wheel and pump the accelerator whenever he needed me to do so. 

All of a sudden three young Africans appeared. They were dressed in their traditional way and there  faces where painted .They were intrigued by the chrome on the car and the lights. I don't think they ever saw a car up close. Whenever they would come too close I would rev the car and they would move away. Us kids were rather scared and I think my father was not too comfortable either but he did not say anything -just worked on the car.  .I don't think they meant any harm ,they just wanted to take a look at the car. After  while they got bored and moved on.

Soon after that my father got the petrol pump to work again after he removed a piece of cork that obstructed the petrol flow-and we were on our way .Just before dark we met Uncle Johannes on his way  back to meet us. We then drove to Port St Johns and reached it well after dark. The owner of the store in Port St John's also owned  the two houses that we rented. He had some Africans help us with our luggage  down to the river where two row boats were waiting. It was a moonless night and very dark.

The Umzimvubu River Mouth .

On the right bank is the town of Port St Johns. Our houses were on the left bank.
In the distance we could hear the ocean, but in front of us now, was the "mighty and the muddy" Umzimvubu River and we had to cross it in the dark of the  night to get to the houses.
 We were helped into the boats .Our party consisted of four  adults and nine children . Two African girls and two African men that had to row the boats. That was roughly ten people in each boat and the luggage divided between the two !

The two African girls that my aunt brought from the farm to help with the kids, where whimpering as they have never seen such a big body of water. My Aunt had to speak very sternly to them and had them get into the boat with her. They laid flat on the bottom of the boat as they did not want to see what was going to happen!  When we hit the high mountains driving during the day, the two of them also spent the trip on the floor at our  feet, not wanting to see the mountain and the valleys. Where they came from in the Western Transvaal, the country was flat .Now after the mountains they had to cross a river at night -it was almost too much to bear. I must be honest I was not feeling that brave either. Truth to be told neither were anybody else- I am sure.....,

Transkei Mountains

We stared crossing the river and slowly the lights of Port St John's became smaller and smaller and we were in the middle of the strong current of the river. Because of the current we could not go straight over but had to cross the river at an angle .After a journey that felt like hours, and not about twenty minutes, we reached the other side of the river. Because of high tide the landing jetty was covered in water .The suitcases and other luggage ended up in six inches of water when they were off-loaded. We were all very thankful that we made it and started the trek , in the dark, up the hill to the two houses. There were no electricity so candles were lit and soon we could make out what the place looked like that would be out homes for the next ten days. Everything was left as it was, and we all went  to bed as soon as possible. We were all exhausted after the dramas of the day.

Port St John's beach.

When we opened our eyes the next morning to the sun and bright ocean in font of us, all the night's travails were forgotten.There were very few people around and we had the beach to ourselves- literally on our doorstep! One could see, smell and feel the ocean unlike our visit to Coffee Bay where the hill obscured our view.

Town of Port St John's

As we were on the other side of the river we were rather isolated from the rest of the world .On our side there were about 5 bungalows and a big old Colonial house. If we wanted to go to Port St John's we had to wait for one of the Africans  to come over with his rowing boat to fetch us. We as kids could  not call them over on our own ,but had to have an adult with us to go to town. We did not care much as the beach was on our side of the river, and the town had very little charm for us.

My father and uncle went over to the town to find  a local African that could take them to the best fishing spots in the area.The older kids climbed aboard the boats and went along. Our host from the night before owned just about everything in Port St John's as well as the bait shop. While were there some other fishermen came back from the ocean to pick up more bait. They leaned their fishing rods against the wall and went inside.

All of a sudden we heard the whizzing sound of the fishing line being pulled off the roll and a dog in pain. The dog ate some of the bait of the hook that got caught in its lip . It was a small fox terrier and the more he pulled and barked the deeper the hook went. The adults came rushing out and tried to catch him and  get the hook out of his lip. After  while he calmed down and one of the fishermen  had to cut his lip to set him free. The next day I saw the little dog again and he was fine , but he kept  his distance from the bait shop!

On the other side of the river  all our clothes that were in the suitcases that got wet ,were on the washing lines to dry. That was about all that reminded us of our close  call with disaster the night before. The local Africans would arrived daily with stuff to sell. Fruits like Bananas or Mango's or Leechies.They were delicious and they sold them for very cheap .They would also bring bead work and other home made stuff  for us to buy. Transkei  was a beautiful place and so unspoilt.The people were also very tribal and was dressed so different than we were use to. We could not understand each other but with smiles and gestures we battered along till everyone was happy with the results of the sale.

Two days before we had to leave, I was with my mother and aunt in the row boat on the way back from Port St John's after doing food shopping. All of a sudden the African rower  started pointing up river and he got very excited. He started to shout at the people on the river banks .

When we looked at what he was pointing at  , we saw hundreds of fish swimming back to the ocean from up river where they went to lay their eggs. They were "Kabeljou" or Silver Cobs as they are also known. They were starving and dashing back to the ocean for food. When they got close to the boat we could feel them scraping the bottom of the boat and even lifting it now and then.

Silver Cob

When the people on shore saw what was happening they  rushed to the river mouth and started spearing and catching fish by hands. There were so many fish that they could not get through the mouth of the river into the ocean fast enough. My father and uncle happened to be close by  and rushed down as well. At the end they caught three fishes, all around 80lbs. Zackie even caught a "Grunter. "After all the excitement  the problem was what to do with all this fish! My mother and aunt decided to can the fish and make curry fish. Once the rush was over they took the row boat back to town to buy curry powder, onions and bottle to can the fish. The two African girls started frying the fish as soon as my father and uncle cleaned them up and cut them to pieces. It was then canned  into a curry sauce with onions and then the bottles were sealed and cooled. They fried and canned fish until everything smelled of curry fish. We were leaving the next day so the canning went on until late that evening.

Curry Fish

After all that I could not bear to eat it. Months later my mother opened the last bottle for lunch one day ,and I had piece. It was very good and I could kick myself for not eating it before.

Canned Curry Fish,

Fish and seaweed.

My uncle decided to keep one fish and take it back with them to the farm. One of the local Africans said if we wrap the fish in seaweed with paper around- and tie it to the bumper of the car- it would stay fresh. It did work .They drove through the night  and the fish arrived fresh and in one piece in the Western Transvaal. My uncle  could  show it to his buddies , and prove to them that this was no ordinary fish story!
Our trip back to Johannesburg was uneventful but it was not easy to get use to city life again, after living so close to nature and being free to roam around the whole day.
Our winter vacation was over  and we had to get back to school.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Living in Cape Town SOUTH AFRICA 1967-1970


Robben Island with Cape Town in the background.

Cape Town photographed from Blauwbergstrand.

Cape Town. Fore Shore 1968.

Cape Town in the late sixties, where not as crowded as it is today. The world had still not discovered its beauty and it was a rather sleepy and laid back town. It had a great historic background and very different from Johannesburg and even Bloemfontein -the only other two cities I knew in South Africa.

Groote Schuur Hospital 1967

A year earlier, on December 3 1967, Dr. Christian Barnard transplanted the first heart and Groote Schuur Hospital was becoming world famous. Slowly but surely the world was taking notice of this beautiful city on the most southern point of Africa.

Cape Malay Family.

The Cape Colored and Malay Communities gave it a unique oriental atmosphere that one did not find anywhere else in South Africa. There were very few Africans living in the Cape at this time. Afrikaans was spoken by these groups and they have a wonderful sense of humor.
Being a harbor city one saw many people from many countries. It also had a rather sordid night life because of so many sailors in town.

Clifton Beach.

 Camps Bay.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

It had great natural beauty .Cape Townians enjoy the outdoor life and were very athletic. The beaches and mountains offered many possibilities for relaxation. The wine farms of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek was a short drive away. It was available and free for all to enjoy.

"Boschendal" Stellenbosch

Wine lands. Stellenbosch


We went sailing and fishing ,visited the beaches, and climbed the mountains . Weekends felt like a week as the weekend started on Friday afternoons. The sun set late enough ,during the summer months, that one could get a few hours on the beach before the weekend even started. We were all tanned -and wore white....this was the 60's!

Rooi Els in False Bay.

Alikreukel Shell.

A bunch of us use to go to Rooi Els for fishing weekends. One of the guy at Saasveld worked for the Department of Forestry and had access to a beach cabin on the ocean in False Bay. In the late 60's there was no town- only this old wooden beach cabin. We had to take everything with us. I was no fisherman but enjoyed the outing. They guys would collect  Alikreukel. We would then beat it to a pulp and fry it in butter. Nothing better! We would also fry the fish that was caught -and for the evenings around the fire some rum and coke got our spirits very high. We had some great times there. I remember Ernst, Nick, Stoffel and Blackie as the guys that would catch the fish and save us from starvation.

Company Gardens with Table Mountain covered in clouds.

One watched the clouds over Table Mountain- to predict the weather for the day. If the table had clouds covering the top, we stayed at home, as it meant wind or rain. The South Eastern wind could play havoc . It was not called the Cape of Storms for nothing and many a ship ran ashore -and still do!

Cape winters were cold, rainy but cozy. One appreciated it when September came around to herald the warmer weather.

Cape Town Symphony.

Cape Town had a Symphony Orchestra that performed on Thursday and Sunday evening in the City Hall. We also had a great Ballet School -started by Dulcie Howes-that fed the Royal Ballet in London with many great dancers like Nadia Nerina, Monica Mason and David Poole.

Nadia Nerina and Rudolph Nureyev.

Plays by local and international writers where performed in several theaters and the opera season, during the winter months, were a great hit.

"The Lost Orchid" by Trechikoff

Vladimir Trechikoff the Russian born painter made his home in Cape Town and was very famous .
He was known as the" king of kitsch" but copies of his paintings were sold all over the world.

"Chinese Girl" by Vladimir Trechikoff

His famous "Chinese Girl", a 1950 painting featuring an Eastern model with blue-green skin, is one of the best selling prints of all time. Prints of the painting became widespread during the 1960s and 1970s, and the painting was featured in various plays and television programs: the original set of "Alfie" with a drawn moustache in one episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus " and an episode of Doctor Who."

Mount Nelson Cape Town

La Perla Restaurant in Sea Point .Cape Town

Constantia Neck Restaurant

Cape Town also had great restaurants during those day. La Perla in Sea Point and the Constantia Neck Restaurant being big favorites of mine. The famous Mount Nelson Hotel also had great restaurants.
 It was a much less stressful life than the folks in Johannesburg lead.

Stuttaford's Adderley Street.

I did not earn a lot of money, but one did not need a fortune to have a great time .Saturdays mornings I would go to the OK Bazaars for a Wimpy as a treat, or meet some friends at Stuttaford's for tea.

OK Bazaars

OK Bazaars. Adderley Street. Cape Town

Wimpy Menu Ok Bazaars 1960's

After that we will be off to the beach for the rest of the day.
Saturday evenings there were always something going on. If not ,we went down to the ladies floor in Saasveld and find several friends with no plans. We would go to the movies or go out for a hamburger or stay put- drink coffee- and chat. Sunday mornings I had to sing in the Groote Kerk choir, but after church we were off to the beach or Ferdie and his family would pick me up for lunch somewhere exciting. After church on Sunday evenings we would go the Symphony Concerts that started at 8:45pm and ended around 10:00 pm .Work started at 8:00 am, so I had to get up around 6:00 am to give me enough time to get to the factory in Maitland. We worked overtime most of the week but I did get paid an extra few cents for that.

I was usually one of the first that would arrive for breakfast and by that time the kitchen staff would've been up for an hour preparing breakfast for the lodgers. The head of the kitchen staff was Koekie a Cape Colored woman and she would also dish up the food. After a while she got to know each of us and a little smile or compliment would get you an extra large portion of you favorite dish. As there were not much to do at that hour she would regale me with the up to date gossip about the staff and the other tenants. She knew it all.....One morning one of the kitchen girls , Ellie was sniffing and wiping her eyes .Koekie informed me that she was "innie anner tyd" - meaning she was pregnant without wedlock and Koekie was furious with her for throwing away her life-and was giving her hell ! A little later she married the father of her child and she had a big "stork party" with the women of Saasveld giving her a lot of gifts for her new baby.She gave birth on her way from work on the street and was back two days later .
The food was really  good and we ate well. After dinner we would hang around in the dining room until they threw us out or go upstairs and visit on the ladies floor. We had no need to run around as we were all friends and enjoyed each others company.

Me as a student in Cape Town taken on my 21st birthday.

Annetjie en Brahm

Annetjie's room was a mayor meeting place and her door was always open. Lettie and Carol's room was opposite hers and Hetna and Marlene was a little further down. Nellie's room was at the end of the passage.Brahm or Steph was also around so we would catch up on the events of the day and have coffee. If somebody was going out they would come and show off in the finery and we all would have something to say. Most of the girls could sew and made their own dresses or gowns. Soon Annetjie and Brahm decided to get married. Lettie and Neels followed as well as Steph and Tineke.

Neels en Lettie van Niekerk

I met Neels van Niekerk at a function and he asked me where I was staying. He just moved to Cape Town from Stellenbosch and needed a place to stay. I invited him to come and take a look at Saasveld the next evening. I introduced him to some of my friends. Lettie was one of them and soon her was asking her out. I was very possessive of Lettie and felt nobody was good enough to marry her. When she told me they were going to get married I was not thrilled. It was a childish reaction but never the less very real. They got married in Bloemfontein and went to live in Milnerton.After a while I got used to the idea and made my peace with it .They had twins a boy and a girl.

Neels, Lettie, Henry, Kobie

After Neel's tragic death ,Lettie married Ben Roets a couple of years later ,and moved back to Bloemfontein.

Kobie en Lettie

Ben en Lettie Roets

The combined Roets and Van Niekerk family

Ronel  Henry Lettie


Annetjie as well as Tineke asked me to help them with their wedding gowns -but the first bridal gown I designed was for Anne's sister Paula du Preez.
Paula was a tall and beautiful and I was thrilled. She was going to marry Charles Osche of  Paarl .
It was going to be a winter wedding in their home town of Rawsonville and the reception would be held at the Swiss Farm Excelsior in Franschoek.

Sketch of Paula's Gown.

Paula en her father entering the church in Rawsonville at sunset.

Charles and Paula Osche.

Paula's gown was made by Geoffrey Lee that worked with me at Hellas. We asked one of the seamstresses to sew it under his supervision.
It was made out of cream colored wool crepe. Over a slim fitting gown was a pointed front apron that formed a pointed train at the back. On the shoulders and down the sleeves it had small covered buttons. A very long veil fell over the train and dragged on the floor. Paula was very beautiful, tall and slim and she looked magnificent. I was very proud that she was my first bride.
Charles and Paula moved to a farm near De Doorns and had five boys.
About 14 years later the whole family was killed tragically 


When Brahm and Annetjie got married I designed a Silk Organza cape over a slim Silk Crepe gown for her to wear.. The cape had a full back and formed a train. It was trimmed on all the seams with a French Cuipere lace. The veil was caught onto a small pill box hat and trained behind her.

The moved to Oranjesicht, not far from Saasveld ,and we all still went and visited them. Once they started a family, they moved out of the city, but by that time I was not living in Cape Town anymore. They have a boy and a girl.


When Steph and Tineke got married we had a lot of fun. Tineke was Dutch -tall and blond-a beautiful girl. Steph decided he was going to wear a white suit .This was the late 60's remember , and the Carnaby Street Look was hot! The color scheme was yellow and white.

For Tineke I designed a organza gown with satin trim around the hem, collar and sleeves. The head gear was a like horn of plenty at the back it opened up and the veil with ribbons and flowers attached to them, spilled down her back and formed a train. For Steph's mother ,we found a beautiful white and yellow French lace at Mayers and had a suit made .She wore a yellow turban to match. She was a beautiful woman in any case, but she looked great.

Dutch girls wearing a "Marken" costume

While I was in London, Steph and Tineke visited her parents in the Netherlands where they lived on Marken. They flew over to London as well and visited me for a few days.
After they got married they went to live in Somerset West and had two boys and two girls.


During this time I met a woman that would have a great influence on my life;-
Margaret. A. Smith.
Jean Brechin was the editor of The Buyer magazine, and as I was looking for fashion contacts in Europe, Jean decided to introduce me to Margaret. Margaret who lived in London and was a  freelance writer  for the South African press. She would cover fashion as well as other stuff they needed from London. Every two years she would visit South Africa and spend three months at a time there.

We all met for dinner Margaret, Jean ,Nellie and myself at the President Hotel in Sea Point.
I liked her very much but I got the idea that she was a bit careful taking me on as a protégé.

Penndennis Castle. Cape Town 1969 

She went back to London a few days later on the Pendennis Castle and I send her a bouquet of proteas to the ship. Nellie and I went to see her off as well. She agreed that I could use her address in London for my mail. When I arrived in London she was really very kind to me and we became great friends. We would have lunch very often and she took me along to lots of fashion shows and meetings while I lived there. When I went to Milan she also visited me there when she was visiting  Lake Como. I introduced her to Salome as well and Salome would visit her in London whenever she went to visit her daughter Suzie there.  Margaret  passed away in the 80's  of cancer and wrote me a farewell letter that I still have.

It was 1970 now and I have been living in Cape Town for three years. I enjoyed life very much there but was itching to get my career going. Hellas was a dead end for me and my Father promised me that after I worked in a factory for 2 years he would send me overseas to further my career

Me in Paris with my brown maxi wool coat.

At Hellas they made me a beautiful brown wool coat as a going away present. My mother knitted me some skinny polo neck sweaters in brown and black - and I was set. Arnold
 gave me two suede belts with great buckles too wear over the sweaters.

My parents gave me a year round ticket to Europe .I booked to fly to Rome, Milan, Paris and London.
I contacted the South Africa Wool Board and requested  the addresses of all the top designers in each city.I left with a list of designers in Rome, Milan ,Paris and London,

After saying goodbye to all my friends in Cape Town, I flew back to Bloemfontein to spend Christmas and the New Year with my family.

"Nabucco" by Giuseppi Verdi

A local radio station heard that I was leaving for Europe and they interviewed me about my coming trip to Europe. I also remember listening to the recording of the Verdi opera "Nabucco " over and over while working on a portfolio of sketched to take along. The idea that soon I would be in Italy where would be possible for me to go to a real European opera house was very exciting. After the New Year celebrations it hit me like a bomb that I had one more day left before leaving.

South African Airways Boeing 707.

I had to fly to Johannesburg from Bloemfontein where I would connect to my  flight to Rome via Luanda and Lisbon. Saying goodbye is never easy and I was happy it was behind me when the plane took off on the first leg of my journey.
After leaving Johannesburg's Jan Smuts Airport we landed in Luanda and were escorted off the plane between a row of soldiers with guns. Angola was in the midst of a Independence war since the mid 60's.This was the first time for me flying in a Boeing 707 that was the biggest passenger plane at that time .The overnight flight to Lisbon was uneventful and we landed early the next morning. Having left the South Africa summer we landed in a very cold and wintery Europe.