As thousands of people flock to the Southern Cape for a better quality of life, the region’s property market is spinning out of control. Those wanting to live here are encouraged to get and stay in the market, buy for location and hold on for dear life.
More people than ever before want to live in the Western Cape. Increasingly considered a last resort before overseas options, the province has seen massive growth in the past decade. Those not wanting to be in the city choose the Southern Cape, where natural beauty, safe neighbourhoods, well-managed municipalities, good schools, excellent medical care and two airports contribute to the region’s popularity.
Stephen and Mariaan Lubbe have owned the Rawson Properties franchise in George since 2010 and have experienced a complete turnaround in the market. “The global economic crisis of 2008 had an enormous impact on the property market, especially in smaller economies such as the Garden Route. People in financial trouble flooded the market, having been forced to sell their homes for below market value,” says agency principal Mariaan.
“From 2013, sales started escalating, property prices rose to true market value and beyond, to now, when especially the middle class entry level property – a three bedroom, two bathroom house in a good neighbourhood – is becoming beyond the reach of the average income household with an entry tag price of between R1.3 million and R1.5 million. This market segment remains in highest demand and made up 20% of our sales last year, followed by the R2 million to R3 million range at about 11%.” Stephen says conservative municipal estimates indicate some 50 households moving into George each month. “The driving force behind these numbers is the city and region’s excellent reputation for being safe and well-managed. George has world-class infrastructure, a well-run municipality, a stable local political environment and a very low crime rate – all excellent reasons to want to raise a family or retire here.
Over 70% of Rawson’s business comprises buyers from out of town, 40% of which is in the retirement sector.
“The local market, driven by over-demand and undersupply, is not representative of most of the rest of the country and therefor relatively artificial. In turn, the need for rental properties has escalated and pushed rental rates sky-high. In the long term, buying a house instead of renting remains the best choice,” says Stephen.
Investing in retirement
Leading retirement housing developers Green Route Properties, the creators of the Groenkloof Retirement Villages, stepped into the gap in the early 2000s when managing director Jan Pienaar relocated from the Free State to Great Brak River. “I met countless people who had retired to their holiday homes, only to find it not suitable for their needs: often built with a scenic view and summer conditions in mind, holiday houses can be cold and wet, don’t have the necessary security, and care and medical facilities are too far away,” says Jan.
Today, six Groenkloof retirement villages provide financially accessible housing for the 50+ age group in George, Great Brak River and Reebok. “The Groenkloof model provides housing options for all the stages of retirement – from the active and social to the person needing living assistance or frail care. It offers peace of mind for retirees and their families that there will be someone looking out for their well-being – whether they live independently in a townhouse fitted with a panic button, a cosy and personalised assisted living flat or in the frail care centre.
“The Garden Route is a prime retirement destination. It is beautiful, safe and close to world-class medical facilities. The variety of Groenkloof property offerings, from large and small houses to flats, make it easier for people to scale down – their first buy into Groenkloof may often be from a large family home, and buyers are perhaps not yet prepared to move into a significantly smaller two-bedroom townhouse. As they grow used to the idea, they reconsider smaller options and see the benefit of simplifying.”
Other trends include the scramble for property in housing estates such as Kraaibosch and Welgelegen on the eastern edge of George.
Initially intended as middle-income housing when plots became available in the early 2000s, property sales inside Kraaibosch advanced from a trickle to a flood. The estate became a prime speculation building opportunity, which has paid off for several construction outfits and further pushed prices into the above-middle income bracket. Only a few undeveloped plots of the original 290 erven in Kraaibosch Country Estate remain. Plots in the more exclusive Kraaibosch Manor and Welgelegen developments continue to sell and develop rapidly.
Golf and lifestyle estates
Established in 1996, Goose Valley outside Plettenberg Bay was among the first residential golf estates on the Garden Route.
Goose Valley club manager Nici Hutchinson says her father Tim recognised the trend towards golf estates early on. He and two business partners bought the land on which the second nine holes of the Gary Player-designed 18-hole Goose Valley golf course would be built.
While apartments surround the first nine holes, he foresaw the need for freestanding homes and developed 60 stands on Turtle Creek and 13 on Fairway Close.
The development is a great success with a strong sales and rental base, and is especially popular with ‘swallows’, mainly British and German citizens, who spend their cold months in balmy South Africa. “South Africa offers people earning overseas currency an opportunity to maintain a much higher standard of living than they may have done in their home countries. With access to several world-class golf courses and secure living in beautiful natural surroundings, the Garden Route is an ideal property destination for those who love golf and the outdoors,” says Nici.
Ling Dobson, principal of Pam Golding Properties in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, says the local market has spiralled upwards from a R71 million turnover when she bought the franchise in 2009 to over R200 million last year. The growth spike also shifted from Knysna to Plettenberg Bay. “Many people from elsewhere in the country and oversees are relocating their families here to enjoy a freer lifestyle. Good schools, safe living, and easy access to the Plettenberg Bay and George airports enable the breadwinner to commute to bigger cities during the week while the family is safe and happy.
While the Garden Route remains a strong second and third house property destination, both from an investment and holiday perspective, the lifestyle trend has resulted in a much less seasonal residency than in the past and fewer homes standing empty for the whole year except December.
While property in Plett has never been cheap, Ling says it is no longer accessible to middle to lower income brackets, with entry level three-bedroom houses starting at between R2,5 and R3 million. She is, however, talking to developers in an attempt to bridge the gap, but high building costs have so far made it impossible. “Plett is now a resort residential location, like the French and Italian Riviera, and yet, to those who can afford it, the town competes comfortably with, for instance, the Atlantic seaboard where properties of R49 million are commonplace and still much more expensive compared to an equal sized house in Plettenberg Bay. All things considered, the flight from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay may be quicker than braving the traffic around Table Mountain.”
George-based Platinum Wave Properties specialises in the sale and rental of commercial and industrial property.
Principal Bryan de Beer says the non-residential property market has grown exponentially over the past two years, with very little to no quality selling and letting stock available. “The average rental space cost has increased from R20 to R30 per square metre in the town’s newer industrial areas. While this is expensive for locals, it still compares well with cities where rental can be more than double that,” says Bryan.
While vacant land is still available, high building costs make industrial development more risky. Other, more neglected commercial areas, such as properties along the train tracks, is starting to attract the attention of buyers, and should also ultimately become more desirable.
Bryan says the evidence of several premises in the George CBD standing empty is related to some landlords having recognised the demand and wanting rental far beyond the average small business’ capabilities.
“The business property market on the Garden Route, in general, is booming and is expected to do so for some time to come,” says Bryan.
Over the mountain
In the Klein-Karoo, the property market is also riding the wave with two major trends emerging: a growing commuting population who lives in Oudtshoorn and works in George, and Karoo breakaway second home buys by city-dwellers. Chas Everitt Oudtshoorn co-owner Antoinette du Toit says the town has become a popular first home destination for people for whom George has become too expensive. “For the same price as a rental house in Blanco, a client of mine is now paying off a house in Oudtshoorn and covering his petrol money to commute.”
But here too, the entry market price of a quality house in town has increased from between R500 000 and R600 000 to R800 000 and R1.1 million. Despite this, a growing client base is choosing the Klein-Karoo above coastal options because of good value for money, a drier climate and lower population density. “There are some gems that come along, houses that are closer to R500 000 and just need a little TLC. These are often ideal for first time home buyers and a good opportunity for them to get a foothold in the market.
“We encourage people to try buying instead of renting, but it can be difficult to secure a home loan as a first-time buyer with no deposit. If not successful at first, we urge prospective buyers to pay off debts and then reapply – they are often committed and successful once they realise it is not completely out of their reach,” says Antoinette.
Inquiries into smallholdings and farms continue to grow, with a significant increase in buyers from cities purchasing and restoring old farm and town houses for weekend getaways or lifestyle changes. “With Internet access almost everywhere, it is possible for people to run their businesses from anywhere.
“Owning property in the Southern Cape remains a good investment. Remember the basics: do your homework before you sell, stay in the market and buy for location: A small house in a good area is still better than a big house in a bad one.”
Gone are the days that the Garden Route was considered too remote and obscure for locals to make it big. South is proud to profile some of the increasing number of internationally outstanding individuals who call the region ‘home’.
PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden, Melanie Maré and supplied
Professional surfer Bianca Buitendag, aged 23, hails from Victoria Bay and is among the top women surfers in the world. She reached the number four spot in 2015 and continues to lure international sponsors with her talents and charm.
As a professional surfer, Bianca travels the world and finds herself in a different time zone at least every two weeks. At the time of interviewing, Bianca was on the southwest coast of France preparing for a World Tour event.
Although she has surfed professionally since the age of 17, her surfing-related travelling started at 14. Growing up in this unorthodox way encouraged her to become open-minded towards other cultures and opinions, and she regards it a privilege that few others get to experience.
She sees the ocean as her escape. “My heart thrives when I find myself under water, lost in the freedom of the ocean and its movements.”
Becoming one of the world’s top surfers required hard work and dedication. Bianca spends long hours in the water practicing and follows a physical exercise regime focusing on core strength, cardio and stretching. To qualify for the World Championships Tour, which sees the 17 best surfers in the world competing for the crown, she has to surf heats during various events in the Qualifying Series. Her favourite surfing spot in the world remains Victoria Bay, where she grew up next to the ocean. She matriculated from Outeniqua High.
“All my memories of the Garden Route are fond; I had the joy and privilege to grow up in an untouched and uncorrupted environment. I would love to settle down in this area one day and pass these memories on.” For now she is focused on her sport but in future would like to become involved in business. “We will have to see where the opportunities might arise.” biancabuitendag.com
Born and raised in Pacaltsdorp in George, Elroy Gelant, 30, qualified for the 5000m Olympic Games finals in Rio de Janeiro and finished 11th despite an injury. A few months earlier he had spectacularly broken the South African record at an event in The Netherlands in a time of 13:04:88 – just a few milliseconds slower than the Olympic bronze time. “I worked for that record, but it still came as a bit of a surprise. During my preparation, the time trials showed I was capable of running the 5000m within 13:10. My previous personal best was 13:15. I’m really humbled and honoured.”
Elroy says the Olympics were a tremendous experience from which he took away a lot of skill and self-confidence that he will use to his advantage in preparing for his next goal – a top-five position in the IAAF World Championships in London in August 2017. He also has his eye on top positions in the 2018 Common Wealth Games in Australia and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
But, just participating and doing well is not where his dream ends. “The holy grail of running the 5000m is a time of under 13 minutes. I’m going to try my best to achieve this over the next two years,” says Elroy.
He wants to take his athletics career as far as possible and intends running professionally for at least the next 15 years. “When I’m over my peak for the track events, I want to switch to road races and marathons. Running is what I love to do and it is a God-given talent.”
Schooled at Pacaltsdorp Primary and Outeniqua High School, Elroy’s outstanding talent surfaced when he won the bronze medal as an eight-year-old at the South African schools championship that year. “I remember it well. I stepped in at least two thorns while running, and cried and cried, but pushed through. In some aspects that is still my motivation – despite thorns and other setbacks, one has to keep going.”
He loves the Garden Route deeply and returns from his training grounds in Potchefstroom at least twice a year. “Nothing beats running in the Outeniqua Mountains. The whole landscape unfolding beneath, the fog, the sea, the vegetation … it’s awe-inspiring.”
Social media: @elroygelant and Facebook
Meyer von Wielligh
The unique furniture of Norman Meyer and Abrie von Wielligh has been attracting international attention for some time, but it was the $30 820 (± R400 000) sale of one of their pieces at world-renowned auctioneering company Christie’s that led to real recognition.
“It was the best moment of our 12 years in business. We could follow the auction live on the Internet. Works of some of the best designers in the world were sold just before and after our piece. It is very encouraging and we take it as a sign that we are on the right track with our business,” says Abrie.
The story behind the top-selling piece, the Battleship Table, is just as intriguing. It was made from the wood of a giant oak tree, which used to tower in York Street in George, and made headlines in the local paper when it crushed a car when it fell. The slab of wood they fashioned the table from resembled the shape of a battleship, hence the name.
The Southern Guild Design Foundation, an independent organisation that acts as a platform for local designers to showcase once-off creations, approached Meyer von Wielligh to create an item for an exhibition in Cape Town. They submitted the Battleship Table, which was eventually included in the foundation’s select exhibition in London.
Abrie and Norman first met as students at Furntech training academy in George before going into business together. They are enchanted by the Garden Route lifestyle and draw inspiration for their exceptional designs from the region’s breath-taking nature.
They have several international clients who have bought properties in the Garden Route and export some of their products to the Czech Republic and the United States. In addition, they have won several business awards, attracted attention at Design Indaba 2012 and took part in numerous international exhibitions in association with Southern Guild.
They are currently involved in a five-year export marketing programme in collaboration with the Dutch government agency CBI, a centre for the promotion of imports from developing countries. “We are definitely looking at the global market for future growth,” says Abrie. meyervonwielligh.co.za
Mark and John Collins
International adventure racing legends Mark and John Collins, aged 48 and 43 respectively, were on the team that beat 50 others from 18 countries in this year’s Expedition Africa race. Their three-hour win secured them a spot in the Adventure World Championships and the respect of significantly younger competitors.
The Knysna-based brothers, who are also behind the highly successful sports events company Magnetic South, will be part of the Sanlam Team Painted Wolf, derived from the Latin name of the endangered African Wild Dog – Lycaon pictus – which literally means painted wolf. “Wild dogs hunt in packs, which involves efficient team work, so we fully identify with that characteristic. In adventure racing success depends on working together as a team. It’s also our way of raising awareness of the plight of the African Wild Dog,” says Mark. The brothers made headlines almost immediately after starting to compete in the endurance sphere and have participated as competitors or organising teams in nearly 50 international events worldwide.
In 1998, at the age of 24 and 29, they represented South Africa at the legendary Camel Trophy competition in South America, surprising veterans by coming second. Four years later they became the first rookies in the top five, taking fourth place in the 2002 Eco Challenge in Fiji, a race in which only 10 out of 89 teams managed to finish.
They wouldn’t trade their Garden Route lifestyle for anywhere else in the world. “We have a good life in Knysna and everything we want and need is right here.”
Their efforts for the World Championships were well supported by the whole community. “Many businesses joined in with sponsorships, which we truly appreciate.”
The adventurous duo wants to participate in the adrenaline-filled world of adventure racing for at least another three years, defending their Expedition Africa title amongst others, before they start thinking about slowing down. magneticsouth.net
Duran de Villiers
Selected in 2015 as one of the 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa by internationally renowned Forbes magazine, Knysna’s ‘drone man’, Duran de Villiers, has a can-do attitude and passion for everything he undertakes.
Duran attracted tremendous international attention after launching his revolutionary unmanned aerial camera support system in 2012, which he designed and built himself. At the time he was a sports photographer and saw the need for filming race participants in inaccessible areas.
The SteadiDrone transformed especially the filmmaking world and has subsequently found many other applications, and earned revenue of more than US$1.2 million in 2014, according to Forbes.
“For me it’s all or nothing. I believe in hard work, finding passion and joy in everything I do and being progressive, moving forward all the time. And then of course the support and hard work of my wife and team – they are all a massive part of our success,” says Duran.
Born in Johannesburg, but in Knysna since the age of 10, Duran matriculated at Knysna High and after school, when his parents emigrated to New Zealand, joined them there for a while.
“My romantic interest was here, however, and I decided to come back. Alexa and I got married and started up a media production company, which sowed the seed for the creation of SteadiDrone.”
Duran and his team are currently taking the company to the next level by building a new brand identity where their latest invention, the Alti Transition UAS, is the star of the show.
“The Alti is a world first in many aspects. It is a next-generation, fixed-wing unmanned aerial aircraft, which we’ve developed from the ground up. It has the ability to take off and land vertically, anywhere.”
Love, nostalgia and a compulsion to read have attracted people to second-hand books for many a year. Some have turned their fascination into profitable business and beautiful gifts.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPHS Colin Stephenson
“There’s a smell of vanilla to old books that actually makes you happy,” says Nikki Jones. She is referring to lignin, a polymer present in wood-based paper closely related to vanillin, which gives old books a faint vanilla scent when the lignin breaks down – and creates a sense of calm and fond remembrance.
“I’ve loved that smell since I was a little girl and started rummaging through second-hand bookshops with my dad. When we moved to Sedgefield from Zimbabwe in 2005, I realised I needed to support my habit of collecting old books. I began buying almost every book I could with the thought of selling them on.”
Developing the skill of spotting rare books, Nikki began collecting and selling books relating to South Africa – from its natural history to its people. “I’ve become very interested in genealogy and family histories. I find it fascinating to find a book that references a family and to then track members of that family down.”
Nikki recently restored a family Bible, dating to the 1800s, to a descendent of its original owner. “This Bible contained family trees and newspaper clippings recording deaths and funerals, which helped considerably in tracing members of the family. I also cross-referenced information I found with information on various genealogy websites. I took a lot of joy from personally returning this piece of family history, but I have learned to put a price on not only a particular book, but also on the time and research involved in locating the eventual buyers.
“Mostly I find my buyers by researching the familial connections to a specific book, but I also have clients that commission me to find certain prints. And, of course, I sell books at online auctions. I’m not going to get rich doing this, but it is a nice nest egg born out of love.”
Selling on online auctions is not necessarily easy money, and requires extensive research to ensure a book reaches the right buyer. “It is very important to correctly represent what you are selling by including photographs and detailing flaws. This is the only way to build a clientele that trusts you and the books you are selling.”
Nikki discovers her finds online, at market stalls, second-hand bookshops and book exchanges such as the Blue Forest Bookshop & Collectables in George. This homely shop with a welcoming atmosphere offers one of the widest ranges of books, from every genre, on the Garden Route as well as old records and stamps, and a camaraderie inspired by a love of books.
Owner Wolfgang Schrader was born in Windhoek but grew up in the forests of the Outeniqua Mountains. “I had a second-hand furniture shop in Limpopo but returned to George where my personal passion for and addiction to books, reading and knowledge led to the opening of my shop 18 years ago.”
Many rare first editions grace the bookshelves, along with a variety of antiquarian and Africana books. The oldest book Wolfgang has in stock is a biography of Lord Nelson, which has survived 210 years since being printed in 1806. “We source books by buying from and trading with the public, which often leads to discoveries of photos, letters and other odds and ends inside the pages. We always leave these where we find them when reselling the books – I believe it adds to the rich personal history of each book’s journey. If a rare book that I’m uncertain about comes in, I’ll visit a website like Bookfinder.com to get an idea of its value, but I’ve built my knowledge on what items are worth after nearly two decades in the business.”
Knysna-based Sharon and Ryan Kensley use the covers of old books and rebind them with blank newsprint to make inspiring upcycled journals. Each beautiful handmade book features a drawing, designed by Sharon, etched onto the front cover and matched to an inspiring quote inside.
The journals found an international niche market and sell online, at 15 retailers across South Africa, and two outlets abroad – including the Chopra Centre in California.
Ryan, a qualified marine officer who has worked in environmentalism and recycling, says their project gives new life to the unwanted books they source mostly from charity shops. “The old inner pages are responsibly recycled, and the new newsprint is mostly recycled too.”
The couple now employ Julie Jacobs to hand-bind the journals. “Book binding is an incredible art and Julie has become a master craftsman who pours her love and energy into each book.
“Our idea of happiness is being able to do what we love and having the freedom to be with our children, Kingston and Ariella. In the past our attention was focused on creating what we thought would sell. When we began creating these journals it seemed to correspond with our own awakening – we felt guided to create something that embodied our own path to rediscovering our true nature.”
Trading at the Sedgefield Mosaic Market for nearly eight years are Tony O’Hagan and Antonio Fiori – partners and owners of Déjà Vu Antiques, Collectables and Books in Knysna’s Woodmill Lane Centre. While Antonio sells a selection of antiques at the market, Tony trades with their books. “I have been a book lover for as long as I can remember,” says Tony. “We opened our first antique shop in Cape Town’s Long Street in 1987 and opened Déjà Vu when we moved to Knysna in 2001. I try to stock a variety of books on various subjects to suit all tastes as I sell to basically anyone who reads.” Clients include book lovers, other dealers and collectors.
“One of the most interesting books that has passed through my hands was a very large, leather-bound English Bible dated 1617. I eventually sold it at an auction in the United Kingdom. “I used to find it hard to part with certain books, but space is becoming a major problem. So, nowadays, once a book has been read, I am happy to see it go. It helps being an avid reader, because I can recommend certain books to certain people. It’s great talking books to other book lovers,” says Tony.
CONTACT Nikki Jones: 072 198 1175 email@example.com Blue Forest Bookshop: & Collectables: Market Street Centre, George 074 465 5050 Wake up and Dream: 082 853 9584 wakeupanddream.co.za Déjà Vu Antiques,Collectables and Books: Woodmill Lane Centre, Knysna 073 220 6015
Hundreds of families moving to the Southern Cape each year have not only discovered the quality lifestyle they had been searching for, but have been pleasantly surprised to find some of the country’s best public and private schools on their doorstep. Significant growth in the local population in recent years has necessitated new schools and for established institutions to make room, and board, for more learners.
WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Provided
Debbie Symes, marketing manager at Glenwood House independent school in George, says she gets at least five calls a day from parents who want to relocate to the Garden Route. “While lifestyle is their main motivation, the fact that they then also find good schools here, often to their surprise, encourages them further,” says Debbie.
Her sentiments are confirmed by Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesman Paddy Attwell, who says the Western Cape in general has experienced a considerable migration of learners from other provinces in recent years, with an increase of more than 12 600 learners in the Eden and Central Karoo education district since 2011. Close to 126 000 registered learners attend 210 public and 28 independent schools in the district.
Aware that local public schools are bursting at the seams, Paddy says the WCED is building
new schools, expanding existing schools and adding mobile classrooms where learner
enrolment has seen rapid growth. “The department has spent R183.5 million on new schools in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, and has plans for another 10 projects, worth about R676 million, over the next six years, including more schools for Mossel Bay, Hessequa and Oudtshoorn. The plans may change to meet shifting needs and available budget,” he says.
The region’s educational landscape mirrors a diverse society and a range of education models to include alternative curriculum schools such as Montessori and Waldorf, several independent Christian schools, Curro schools as well as Cambridge International accredited and Independent Examinations Board (IEB) schools.
In addition to Eden’s main stream public schools, the Oakdale Agricultural High School
in Riversdale, and technical-focused schools PW Botha College in George and Langenhoven Gymnasium in Oudtshoorn, offer specialisation in addition to standard academic programmes.
Special needs are catered for at Up With Downs, Carpe Diem and Van Kervel schools, where the focus is largely skills-based.
According to WCED statistics, the matric pass rate for Eden/ Central Karoo has increased from 75.8% in 2010 to 85.2% in 2015. Many schools in the Southern Cape have an equally good university exemption and Bachelor pass rate, and feature prominently at the WCED academic excellence awards each year.
To add to the attraction, most Southern Cape schools offer boarding. Traditionally intended to host the children of neighbouring towns and surrounding farming communities, schools with boarding facilities now not only have long waiting lists from the region but, as safe and quality educational providers, have become desirable to parents from much further afield, including all parts of South Africa, Africa and Europe. Admissions policies to public schools have become a complicated debate as pressure from desperate parents and government are placed on schools every day to accommodate applicants.
The education department advises parents to apply early at schools of their choice and to contact the department for assistance should they not be able to secure admission to a local public school.
Meanwhile, a growing number of private schools in the region offer good quality alternatives. Even though local private schools are generally more affordable than private schooling in other parts of the country, tuition fees are still too steep for many families. Ironically, often parents who are unable to afford private schools and whose children were unable to secure a place at a local school, are forced to look outside the region, in detriment to their original reasons for moving here. A lack of vacancy at schools is most often cited as the reason why children can’t secure a place at public schools. Private schools, which are usually looking to increase their numbers, address this dilemma by offering bursaries to deserving candidates.
Outeniqua High School in George is arguably the most prominent public school serving the local Afrikaans community. With about 1630 pupils already enrolled, the school has almost reached maximum capacity. The school receives more than 450 applications for Grade 8 each year, but can only accommodate 320.
Headmaster Christo Vorster says pupils are mostly from the region and preference is given to them, but, because it has hostels and a choice of 23 subjects for seniors – the largest variety in the region – Outeniqua is also popular with parents from further afield. “At the start of the second term this year we had so many new applicants, it almost felt like the beginning of a new school year.” The school has an excellent academic track record, rating among the top 20 schools in the province in the WCED academic excellence awards in 2013. “Outeniqua matrics often achieve top marks in several subjects, including priority subjects mathematics and science.
Christo says children must also be taught to make a positive contribution to the world in future. “We live in a society where people are mostly standing on the sidelines. We need to teach children to give, care, and have empathy, which is why community outreach initiatives and environmental awareness in schools are so important.”
Previously a mostly Afrikaans-speaking region, English-speaking learners in the Southern Cape have been served by dual medium public schools for many years. As more English-speaking families moved to the region, the demand for English medium schools and more English classes in the dual medium schools increased significantly. The need is compounded by Afrikaans home language parents choosing to have their children educated in the more international lingua franca, English.
In addition to being the only English medium public high school between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, York High School in George is among the top 25 schools in the Western Cape and was listed as one of the top 100 schools in South Africa by the Sunday Times in 2009. The school received a WCED academic excellence award in 2015 and was acknowledged by Stellenbosch University as a top 100 feeder school for delivering exceptional academic talent for admission into undergraduate programmes for five consecutive years.
As a designated WCED maths and science school, York uses a qualifying maths test as a significant part of its admissions process for all Grade 8 applicants. York headmaster Francois Moll says the reason behind the test is because “the intention is that, whoever is admitted to York in Grade 8, will be choosing math for Matric”.
Pure mathematics, which is much more technical and abstract than mathematical literacy (an independent subject that uses mathematical concepts and applies them to everyday situations to teach basic numeracy life skills), is currently compulsory for Grade 10 pupils at York as part of an ongoing experiment as a WCED maths and science focus school.
York allows for only about 190 successful applicants out of about 300, based mostly on the results of the qualifying maths exam and school capacity.
In part, the focus on maths and science is based on reports such as the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) The Future of Jobs report, published in January this year, which suggests a fourth industrial revolution that will bring together fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genomics. Jobs that are anticipated to grow are still mostly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
However, about 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.
Francois says research skills, the ability to evaluate, judge and consequently synthesise information will be crucial to future success. “Back in my day we used to fight about two books in the library. Now thousands of websites can be accessed with the click of a button. The challenge is how to make a sensible judgement of information and use it.”
Understanding, using and teaching technology in schools is vital, but with an emphasis on skills. “The reality is technology is moving faster than we can teach it. Familiarity with technology and the ability to adapt to it are probably more critical than the actual technology we are learning, because five years after a child has left school, technology will have changed vastly,” says Francois.
Glenwood House in George, an IEB accredited school with a 100 percent matric pass rate since its inception, was one of the first schools in the Southern Cape to make it compulsory for pupils from Grade 5 onwards to use tablets in classrooms, using the Information Technology School Innovation (ITSI) platform. “It’s a textbook on steroids, used by teachers to create a stimulating and more interactive classroom environment for pupils who, in contrast to most of our older generation, are ‘digital natives’. It does not replace the teacher, but serves as a tool to make learning more relevant and exciting,” says Glenwood headmaster Dennis Symes.
Dennis says the increased global emphasis on technology, and the resultant impact it has had on children’s lives, makes it much more crucial to have a holistic approach to education.
“This philosophy has been embraced by Southern Cape schools like Glenwood House by offering opportunities to enable children to develop all-round skills and abilities, catering for the body, mind, social and emotional development and well-being.”
While Glenwood was established in 2006 so locals wanting a traditional English private education for their children did not have to send them to boarding school in other areas, about 65% of the school’s learners are now from outside George and are boarding.
Established in Knysna in 1992, Oakhill was the first independent school in the Garden Route. The school was recently listed in the top 1% of the most innovative, child-centred, forward-looking high schools in the country by South African educator and educational blogger, Sean Hampton-Cole.
Headmaster Shane Kidwell believes its continued success is based on the forward-thinking vision of the school’s founding parents, who wanted to move away from the ‘industrial era’ type thinking to a more individualised approach. “While Hampton-Cole’s criteria may be subjective,
it is indicative of the kinds of skills young men and women will need to navigate the future positively. Skills like critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, research skills, communication skills, analytical thinking, problem solving, innovating, resilience and creativity – but more importantly the emotional intelligence and the self-awareness to understand the intricacies of the complex society and world we are living in – will be vital,” says Shane.
Oakhill had had a 100% pass rate since inception as well as a 94% university exemption with its best ever matric results in 2015.
Oakhill, which is currently looking at much-needed boarding facilities, says boarding will become even more crucial in future as the Southern Cape needs to diversify and extend its economic boundaries.
Education in the Southern Cape has received another significant boost with the addition of the fully accredited Cambridge International schools group The British Academy (TBA) branching out to Knysna at the beginning of this year (2016) – bringing world class education with a strong emphasis on academic excellence and critical thinking to Eden.
Already distinguishing itself through the quality of its academic programme as evidenced in numerous ‘highest mark in South Africa’ awards, the TBA also aims to enhance skills like critical thinking.
TBA Knysna principal, Dr Christa Boshoff, says the academy has a child-centered approach. “It is our goal to empower students to achieve success in their academic careers and we believe in going the extra mile to help each student flourish and develop to his or her full potential. We have complete confidence in the Cambridge curriculum that we offer and our team of teachers is extremely competent to help each student master this academic programme.”
TBA Knysna will be offering boarding facilities from 2017.
Simon Crane is headmaster at Woodridge College, a highly regarded IEB school situated
on a large farm estate near Jeffrey’s Bay, providing for a strong focus on the outdoors. The oldest independent school on the borders of the Southern Cape, it draws many children from Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma.
Crane says pupils today are different from those even a decade ago and standing still in education is a waste of time.
“As educators we need to constantly be looking at and checking our systems to ensure we not only keep current, but stay ahead. Certain aspects of education should never be discarded while others must be moved away from. We need to grow children academically, in sport and culture but we also need to imbue them with sound values, and encourage wholesome behaviour and interests that will allow pupils to grow in self-confidence. Lack of self-confidence is the biggest inhibitor to success,” says Simon.
Ron Boon, founder and chairman of Kenako Golf Academy and Rundle College, a Cambridge International accredited school in George, says it’s not just about turning out academic achievers. “People like Steve Jobs who founded the Apple computers empire but never finished his degree, and movie director Steven Spielberg, who was twice rejected at the California School of Film, still went on to achieve great things. Education should be about creating great young people who will have the right foundation to be successful in their future life and become leaders,” he says.
In its third year of existence, Rundle College produced the top Cambridge International students in South Africa in two subjects in AS Levels, which is the international equivalent to the South African Grade 12 and is recognised by the Matriculation Board (HESA) for exemption purposes.
Ron says when he founded Kenako Golf Academy, a separate brand from Rundle College, the dream was to provide a young person not only with the opportunity to be the next Tiger Woods but also to become the global CEO of Coca-Cola. “Therefore, in education learning should be interactive, integrated and blended.”
The Garden Route’s reputation as a world-class medical tourism destination is gaining momentum as a growing number of professionals establish themselves and their state-of-the-art equipment here. The country’s first 3D printers for prosthetics, a surprising concentration of top-notch dental milling equipment and the latest in non-surgical skin procedures are among them.
WORDS Corrie Erasmus and Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPHS Ruan Redelinghuys and supplied
Custom fit prosthetics
George-based medical orthotist/prosthetist/podiatrist Werner Marx is the first in South Africa to use 3D print technology to produce prosthetics.
Mostly used for building models in architecture and engineering, 3D printing creates a three-dimensional object from successive layers of material formed under computer control.
“I work in a manufacturing industry where a lot of time is spent customising prosthetics before they are finally ready to be used by patients. Technology fascinates me and I have been searching for more accurate and user-friendly ways of creating prosthetics,” Werner says.
While searching the internet, Werner was inspired by Canadian artist Natasha Hope Simpson, who became one of the first people in the world to have obtained a 3D-printed prosthesis. With her design background, she helped design the prosthetic. “I knew then that it was possible to use 3D printing to create prosthetics,” he says.
Werner came across American company 3D Systems, which seemed to have the kind of printers for his objectives and flew to their South African distributors, CAD House in Johannesburg, to find a machine that could print a socket – the part into which the stump of an amputated limb fits and which is essential to a patient’s comfort. He bought his first machine in June last year.
There were no guidelines for printing prosthetics, which meant Werner had to experiment, through trial and error, with various temperature settings, different prosthetic filament (materials), and printer settings to create proper fitting, high-quality braces and prosthetics. Six months later, he had the confidence to ask a patient, Johan Stemmett, to test the socket for his prosthetic leg. “Initially I thought we would have to try a few times to get it right, but the very first prosthetic socket I’d printed for him on the 3D printer fitted perfectly. His feedback was that it was very comfortable. In all my years, this has never happened.”
The process involves scanning the body part where the brace or prosthesis is necessary and importing the image into a computer programme. Sculpting software designs the prosthesis or brace and, when Werner is satisfied the measurements are correct, design data is placed on a memory card and inserted into the 3D printer. The printer, loaded with the suitable filament, prints the prosthetic socket or brace, a process that can take up to 30 hours. After manually cleaning up excessive material, reinforcing the socket with carbon fibre, polishing and attaching the metal fittings, the result is a prosthesis that fits perfectly and comfortably. Werner has since bought two more printers to cover the workload, which now includes various braces to support arms, wrists and fingers.
In addition to accuracy and time saving benefits, 3D print technology means measurements can be saved and the prosthetics reproduced exactly when needed. There is also no cost difference between a 3D printed prosthesis or brace and a traditionally manufactured one.
There is a huge variety of filaments on the market, which is continuously being improved. While he currently uses ABS filament – the material used for Lego blocks – Werner is also experimenting with a carbon filament that has great strength and weight benefits.
Other applications have also transpired. Werner printed a 3D foot skeleton for local specialists to help them plan their surgeries. “It may significantly reduce time on the operating table if they can prepare in advance with the 3D printed version.”
Werner has also printed a replica of the archaeological finding, the Naledi skull, as a school teaching aid.
He wants to focus on creating personalised prosthetics, which was unheard of before. “Many young patients prefer to show their prosthetic limbs these days and funky designs will offer them something unique,” he says.
A relatively high concentration of world-class dental milling equipment in the Garden Route is believed to be an indicator of the region’s increasing reputation as a safe, affordable and respected international medical and dental tourism destination.
Knysna-based Dekodent South Africa is the importer and distributor of the latest in high technology milling machines as well as high translucent zirconium, a relatively new dental material in the industry. A company representative says the fact that at least two of their German manufactured imes-icore 250i milling machines are on the Garden Route is significant, especially considering there are not many elsewhere in the country.
Dekodent believes this prevalence is linked to the country’s international reputation for providing quality dental work with state-of-the-art equipment – combined with a favourable monetary exchange rate and beautiful Garden Route surroundings.
Dental milling machines have revolutionised production of a wide range of dental prostheses, including temporary and permanent crowns, and implants. The computerised equipment allows dental technicians and dentists to digitally design the prosthesis. Cylindrically shaped material is inserted into the machine and robotic arms manipulate a series of drill bits to cut the dental prosthesis.
For dental technicians, the major advantage of milling machines is the significant time saved to create a prosthesis, which in the past had to be painstakingly created by hand. While expensive, the benefits and value the machine adds makes it worth the while. “It puts us on par with top dental technologists in the world. If you walk into a dental technician’s lab in New York, you will find exactly the same technology,” says a George-based technician.*
Registered nurse and Skinstitute owner Christine de Villiers was the first in the Southern Cape and one of the first seven in the country to introduce the Italian-made Plexr non-surgical plasma tool. Christine describes it as a wonder soft surgery tool, which can be used for an array of skin applications including sun damage repair and tattoo removal, but it is its non-invasive proven success with Blepharoplasty (baggy eyelid correction) that attracts the most attention. “No botox, no fillers, no scalpels, no cutting and no lazers.
“By far the most impressive is the short recovery time following a Plexr treatment. In today’s busy lifestyle people want dramatic results without surgery and without long periods of downtime”. Traditional eye lid surgery can take weeks to heal while most people require two to five days’ down-time after Plexr.” Christine’s business partner, Dr Jean du Plessis, performs the eyelid soft surgery treatment and she does all other procedures.
She says South Africa is a respected and well-known international destination for aesthetic procedures. “Europeans in particular have come to realise they can have the same or better treatment in South Africa at a fraction of the overseas cost. While many of them are ‘swallows’ who have second properties on the Garden Route and use their summer time to catch up on treatments and surgery, there are also many local and overseas visitors to the region who plan holidays around aesthetic procedures – giving them time to recover, going back home looking well rested,” says Christine.
Dr Herman van Rooyen and Dr Adri Hofmeister of Skinlogic also have state-of-the-art laser machines and echo sentiments that South Africans not only keep up with the latest technology, but are among the best medical service providers in the world. As regular speakers at international congresses and trainers in specialised equipment and dermal fillers, Herman says the clinic works closely with dermatologists, plastic surgeons and specialists to provide a comprehensive service so patients get the correct treatment under medical supervision for their specific conditions. “Modern computerised equipment is updated online, which ensures we stay on par with everyone else.
“While our international clients benefit most, the Garden Route is up to 30% more affordable than elsewhere in the country, a fact that is slowly becoming known and attracting patients. We also find there is no more on or off season – in winter patients want procedures such as laser, which require them to remain out of the sun, while summer attracts less invasive work that heals quickly and can be shown off.”
Age is relative – just ask three local 70-somethings whose continued accolades in sports AND DANCE are inspiring young and old.
WORDS Corrie Erasmus PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré
On the bike
“Sport keeps you young,” says 72-year-old cycling legend Willie Marx, who continues to compete and win medals in mountain bike and road races.
During the 2014 South African Track Championships he secured three medals in his age division – two gold and one silver. At the time of going to print, he was on his way to participate in the South African National Road Championships in February.
Better known these days for his bustling bike shop in York Street, Willie once was South African national track champion no less than seven times and was headhunted for the Dutch Amstel Beer team to compete in the Tour de France at the age of 18.
“I competed in the world championships in Holland that year and came third. After five days of racing, my teammates returned to South Africa, but I was approached to stay behind and ride for Holland,” he says.
Eventually, Willie stayed for three years and cycled the world on fire.
He broke British cycling hero Sir Reg Harris’ quarter mile record and was honoured for this achievement by being invited to Buckingham Palace for tea and scones. “I didn’t meet the Queen though,” he smiles.
Willie returned to South Africa to pursue studies and a career in electronics, but after a bad cycling accident 35 years ago he sold his electronics business and opened a cycling shop in George, which is still flourishing today.
His dream is to go back to the world championships and become number one again. “If I can get a sponsor, I will practise very hard. I’m healthy and still have the drive and enthusiasm to do what it takes,” Willie says.
He cycles three times a week, doing 50 to 60km at a time, and takes a special remedy to prevent cramps, reduce stiffness and keep his blood clean. A local specialist who won a world award for his work developed this remedy.
What do people say when they hear he still cycles? Willie says: “It is always very positive and everyone encourages me to keep on doing this.”
Meet Marianne van der Merwe-van der Lecq, a veteran ballet dancer from Little Brak River.
At the seasoned age of 70, this remarkable former professional ballerina of the erstwhile PACT (Performing Arts Council of the Transvaal) is still dancing and enjoys every minute of it.
“I’m most grateful towards my Creator and feel very blessed to be able to still do what I love at my age,” Marianne says. “Also, it’s very special that my beloved mother, who recently turned 100, is still able to share my joy. She has always been my greatest supporter.”
After years of not dancing, Marianne took up classes again a few years ago. In 2014 she successfully completed the Royal Academy of Dance Grade 7 ballet examination. She performed the best in her group – comprising mostly teenagers – and received both a distinction and a gold medal.
Marianne explains her reasons for taking up dance again: “I went to a ladies tea one morning and met ballet teacher Mariki Viviers from Great Brak River. We started talking and the desire to do plié’s and pirouettes once more was suddenly there.”
Ever since she can remember Marianne says she was always dancing around the house. At the age of nine a family friend took her to the Johannesburg City Hall to see a ballet performance by an international star.
“I was totally enchanted and, having grown up in a home where we were exposed to music, literature and the arts, everything about that performance made an enormous impression on me.”
The cherry on top was when she met the prima ballerina, Tamara Toumanova, backstage and got her programme signed. The die was cast and soon afterwards she started ballet lessons. After school PACT asked her to join their ballet corps and Marianne soon became one of their solo dancers.
“My four years with PACT were some of the happiest and most fulfilling of my life. We were very privileged in the 1960s to work with some of the greatest international artists in the ballet world. Apart from performances in all the major cities in South Africa, we also had the privilege from time to time of touring the country to expose and educate those in remote areas about the arts.”
Marianne gave up her dancing career after getting married. Although she didn’t dance professionally any more she joined a dance group in Cape Town and took part in classes and performances. She called it quits in the 1990s but remained supple with Pilates, which stood her in good stead when she returned to ballet.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete my first lesson with Mariki, but to my surprise I completed the lesson and was even able to do the jumps,” she laughs.
“Ballet is beneficial to the whole body, mind and spirit. I will keep on doing this for as long as I am able to. I feel revitalised after each class.”
According to Marianne, people’s reaction on hearing that she is still dancing at 70 is overwhelmingly positive. “To me, one of the joys that comes with ballet is to inspire people. Be grateful for your health, enjoy it and stay active.”
Not only is Oudtshoorn-based Toy Ungerer the South African women’s champion in her previous age division (65 – 69) in the 100m, 200m, 400m and long jump, she also won the gold medal in the 400m two years ago at the World Masters Athletics Championships in Brazil. Having recently turned 70, Toy is currently training hard to break at least the 400m in her new age category at the World Masters Championships in Australia later this year.
Toy says she excelled in athletics, netball and gymnastics as a child. She believes she inherited her talent from her father, Ernst du Plooy, a fine athlete in his own right. After school she went to the Oudtshoorn Teaching College, but didn’t continue with her running.
Her spectacular comeback to the world of athletics – 42 years after she had stopped running – started with a small advertisement in a local publication. “When I was 59 years old, I responded to an advertisement looking for volunteers to act as field marshals during the district masters championships, which were held in Oudtshoorn that year,” Toy says. “The organiser, Frans Kalp, convinced me to participate as well. I took the plunge, competed in the 100m and came second.”
This achievement marked the beginning of great things as Toy continued to participate in numerous big athletics events, including three world championships, harvesting medals and breaking records along the way. Besides being a dynamic athlete who practises for an hour and a half three times a week, she is also very involved with the administrative side of the sport.
Toy has been the chairperson of Athletics South Western Districts (ASWD), an affiliate of Athletics South Africa, for the past eight years. She also serves on ASWD’s track and field committee and is the vice-president of South Africa Masters Athletics (SAMA).
“My life has become so enriched in terms of experiences. Besides meeting and befriending people from all walks of life and from all over the world, I even became computer literate, being involved with the administration.”
Every athlete suffers injuries from time to time and Toy is no exception. She tries to eat according to her blood group in order to prevent the build-up of lactic acids and does ongoing research to help her perform better.
She says she has become very strong, physically and mentally. “It’s hard work, but the word ‘lekker’ (fun) is connected to every aspect.”
Her future goals include coaching other athletes. “I want to stay involved in athletics. It’s important that people know about masters athletics. Life doesn’t stop just because you are growing older. I want to motivate others to become active and enjoy their life. Set yourself goals and don’t wait, just do it!”
In the world of trail running, The Otter African Trail Run has deservedly earned the name ‘Grail of Trails’. Mark Collins, co-organiser and a legendary endurance racer, explains how they secured a race on one of the most famous protected hiking trails in the world.
WORDS Mark Collins | Photographs Jacques Marais
Staging a run on the Otter hiking trail was actually my brother John’s idea. He is absolutely besotted with the hiking trail. The 40km spectacular, unspoilt shoreline of the Tsitsikamma is in his eyes the crown jewel of the African coast, and to him the idea of a race along it was the ultimate event. Given the global boom in trail running and the Otter trail’s international renown, we thought it was inevitable that sooner or later someone would want to try and organise a run along it – so why not us?
The Otter hiking trail is a sought after wilderness experience and usually booked out throughout the year. Would SANParks, the custodians of the trail, even entertain such a notion?
We approached SANParks with the idea in 2008, expecting it to be dismissed out of hand, but our timing could not have been more perfect. SANParks was at that very time receptive to new sustainable concepts and to our surprise agreed to consider our proposal, and requested that we present our plan at the general meeting of the Garden Route National Park.
Trail running is arguably the sport that can be staged as an event with one of the lowest impacts on the environment. The erosive impact of shoes on a trail cannot be compared to that of the wheels of a bike, for example, and mountain biking is itself a low environmental impact sport.
Trail runners also do not use hard soled boots, carry less weight and strike the trail 30% less than even hikers do. Waste management is also an integral part of the trail running ethos and race rules dictate that everything taken onto the trail must be taken off. In this sport littering is akin to cheating and penalised with disqualification.
Although the sport’s impact still awaits the scrutiny of scientific study, some contend the holistic impact of an individual trail runner on a trail is even less than that of a hiker. Of course the impact of hosting an event is far more complex but we felt we could do it and do it well. We wanted it to be a credit to the sport and to our hosts. In our introducing the sport to SANParks, we presented these observations together with our proposed event management plan.
Our presentation was followed by robust internal debate. Frankly, given the status of the Otter hiking trail and the importance of the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park to the environment, I would have been disappointed had it been anything less. Eventually it was agreed the only way to fully assess the impact of such an event was to give us the opportunity to stage a once-off event, provided an Environmental Impact Study was done and an Environmental Management Plan drafted and adhered to. Any future events would only be considered following the assessment of this one event. We were given our opportunity and we put our trail shoes on.
Running the Otter trail immediately captured the imagination of the South African trail running fraternity and demand for the limited entries was high from the outset. The Otter trail did not disappoint. The trail is a marathon distance but anyone fooled into considering it in kilometres alone is in for a shock. Metre for metre, it is one of the most brutal trail running challenges around and even the best of the best take twice as long to traverse its undulating course as they would for the same distance on the road. Although the trail climbs no big mountains, the cumulative altitude gain of the numerous short sharp hills makes it comparative with some of the bigger mountain runs in that regard but it is the unrelenting, twisted and tangled surface of the trail itself that poses the greatest challenge. No two strides are ever the same. It is just impossible to find a rhythm.
These physical challenges combined with the overwhelming beauty traversed left a deep impression on the 168 runners of that inaugural run in September 2009. The fact that it was off-limits to trail running outside of this organised event only added to its magical allure. One of the runners of that pioneering event dubbed it the “Grail of Trail”, a definition that resonated and stuck.
Today The Otter African Trail Run, presented by Salomon and GU, is considered the yardstick of South African marathon distance trail running and the limited 440 entries are snapped up as soon as they become available each year. The race has also won a SANParks Kudu Award and we have been nominated in several categories in the national Sport Industry Awards in 2012 and 2015.
According to former winner Dr Andre Gie: “it’s a reputation wrecker.” AJ Calitz, a South African national team trail runner with more trail race wins in more races than just about any other South African, says: “No disrespect to the others but the Otter is the one.”
AJ has yet to taste victory in The Grail of Trail but he came agonisingly close on three occasions, bagging two converted black ribbon medals for twice dipping below the 04:30 mark. Only four other runners hold black ribbon medals. World Champion Ricky Lightfoot from the United Kingdom is one of them. He professed to being “shocked” by how technically sustained the trail was during his record setting run in 2013. Shocked he may have been, but his mark of 04:15:22 is almost inconceivable to anyone who has hiked the trail in five days.
Lightfoot is one of a host of international trail running royalty who have made the pilgrimage to do the Otter run. Legends like France’s Sebastian Chaigneau, the United States’ Krissy Moehl, New Zealand’s Ruby Muir and South Africa’s own superstar Ryan Sandes all have carved their names into the history of the race.
Ruby became the first woman to dip below five hours when she edged Landie Greyling in 2013. Landie is the only South African woman to run sub-five hours.
Perhaps no other runner has made a mark on this race more than Iain don Wauchope, who won the Otter three times, including the inaugural race (04:59:02) and finished second twice. His competitors refer to him as “the Professor” of the Otter run for his uncanny ability to pace his race to perfection. Iain holds the record for the West-East running of the race, which was introduced in 2012 and is known as the RETTO (Otter spelled backwards), which he completed in 04:23:24.
While it is evident we are absolutely passionate about the race aspect of the Otter run, and thrilled by the status the event has attained, it is the environmental ethos of the event that we as organisers are most proud of. Our founding philosophy is that the Tsitsikamma must be better for us having been here. The manifestation of this philosophy has endeared us to our hosts and resonates strongly with our participant base. Good intentions are one thing, practically making a difference is much harder and we have a long way to go yet, but we have been innovative in our physical efforts and our Environmental Check Station with SANParks is a world first for a trail race. The cumulative awareness this generates is harder to quantify but perhaps more profound than the physical marine debris that the event marshals assist the rangers in removing annually from the rocky shorelines.
What not many people are aware of is that the greatest extent of the Tsitsikamma lies beneath crashing waves. The marine protected area extending five miles offshore is the oldest and largest in Africa and of critical importance to marine life along the entire coastline. How this is managed affects all of us and we never tire of making our participants and the media aware of this. Being entrusted with the opportunity to organise an event here is indeed a privilege and we treasure every moment spent in the park. With that privilege goes a big responsibility.
We will always be mindful of that.
With a record 23 trips to Antarctica under his belt, Garden Route-based structural engineer Hennie Stassen is a legend among those who work on the icy continent, and his credo – “’n boer maak ’n plan” (a farmer makes a plan) – is firmly imbedded in international Pole-speak.
WORDS Heidi Sonnekus PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré, Hennie Stassen and provided
Hennie Stassen’s heart beats in three distinct colours: white, green and burnt umber.
The first time he set foot on Antarctica as part of a South African Department of Public Works maintenance team, many years ago, his soul recognised home and he lost a large part of his heart right then and there – irrevocably.
When not down south, he yearns for the white, vast, minimalist world where life is lived in its simplest form. “There are no distractions. For the duration of the short summer – during long, 16-hour shifts, seven days a week – you are intently focused on the job at hand. A lapse in attention or judgement can mean the difference between life and death, for yourself and others,” says Hennie.
During the Antarctic winter Hennie lives 4000km to the north at Kalanderkloof, a farm perched on a hill overlooking the Karatara River near Sedgefield. It’s a lush, permanently green world of indigenous trees, among them the famous Outeniqua yellowwood (kalander).
His wife Helga – she of the long, umber tresses – uniquely ties Hennie’s two worlds together. Helga is an architect with experience in design for extreme conditions. She became part of Hennie’s design team and once, while seven months pregnant, even accompanied him on an Antarctic trip. The experience strengthened their bond and that of their family, which includes Daniel, now six years old, and Ida, aged three. Like their siblings from Hennie’s previous marriage, the children understand their dad’s need to visit his white world as often as he can.
Internationally respected, Hennie joined the Department of Public Works after completing his studies to honour his bursary specifications. It became his job to maintain state-owned structures, including those on Marion- and Gough Islands and the fast-disintegrating South African National Antarctic Expedition (SANAE) III base.
It was on Marion that Hennie met Helga, who designed the space-age base built there in 2007. The nitty-gritty of working at impossible jobs in improbable terrain is fascinating: for the Antarctic base, they casually toss into conversations figures like “600 tons of nuts and bolts, 11 000m² insulation, 4km of optical cables and 9km of electrical wiring”. Every component has to be labelled and packed in crates within the weight-capacity of being airlifted onto the ice. And if they forget something? Tough. The next trip to the local hardware shop can only happen at the end of the Antarctic summer – on another continent!
Hennie selected the spot for the South African National Antarctic Expedition’s fourth base, designed and built from the rock base of the Vesleskarvet escarpment, part of the Nunutak mountain range in Queen Maud Land. Work was done in short bursts over six summers. SANAE IV is 150km from the sea, a trip by bulldozer-pulled sled train over washboard-like snowdrifts.
Just getting there is not for the fainthearted. “We travel – in best circumstances – at 10km/h in very, very cramped conditions. Hours of mindlessly bumpy tedium go by before you can stretch our legs.”
And that is after a 4000km trip in very confined quarters on the SA Agulhas II icebreaking vessel, crossing the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties (degrees latitude).
Most of the work is manual labour. Over December 2014 and January 2015 Hennie’s team had to hydraulically lift the South African summer base and underground vehicle compound two meters to prevent them from becoming ice-logged.
This meant pick-axing and jackhammering 130m by half a metre of blue ice – melted and refrozen to be “hard as concrete and slippery as snot” – from around the compound before painstakingly lifting it out of the ice, section by section, and then securing it in place to withstand the pile-up of winter drifts and storms of over 200km/h.
“In Antarctica there is no time – only weather. Storms visibly approach and we sometimes literally have minutes to secure new work and anything that can blow away. Katabatic gales can last for days and bury every single thing, including bulldozers and ‘ground won’ yesterday. Repeatedly,” he explains.
It is in a film about his work that one realises just how dangerous this is – while building SANAE IV a team member was unaccounted for. Venturing out into zero visibility and a 193km/h wind, three volunteers braved a “white wall of air” to search for him. One of the volunteers lost his grip on the rope and was blown away.
“You simply get blown off your feet. There is no traction on the ice, nothing to grab onto. The new base is close to a 250m cliff, specifically to prevent snow build-up, but this increases the danger. It is possible he was blown off the cliff.”
There is the immediate push-pull of wanting to send out more search parties – but always at the real risk of losing more men. Searching means teammates lashed together on 20m ropes, walking blindly in circles, hoping to stumble over the lost person. Ice goggles steam up. If you take them off, your eyelids freeze. Hard decisions have to be made by strong leaders who have to consider the bigger picture and risk to the rest of the team. In a tragic irony, the original lost team member miraculously found his way back to base.
The lingering trauma and sadness leaves Hennie quiet, and Helga says: “There is no place for romanticism or aesthetics there. If things go wrong people can die.”
Hennie’s years of experience in the ice also led to him becoming involved in the design process of other international projects. Micheal Pinnock of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) recalls Hennie and his men helping BAS erect radar masts for a project shared by 44 countries. “We were proudly admiring our completed work when Mr Stassen commented, drily, ‘Tsk. Pity it won’t last.’ Indeed it did not: quite a few masts were promptly blown away. We made sure to involve him in designing the next batch.”
Adapting plans to the sub-zero temperatures, and the ability to tread lightly and pack up quickly, has become a mind-set. Materials do strange things at -50˚C – rules change at the end of the earth.
Mentally, survival on the ice depends on relaxation in between prime focal periods and during weather-enforced tool-downs, often of undetermined duration. This is when you get a chance to try out the base gym and enjoy a round in the pub, where Hennie’s name has been immortalised in copper plate. Appreciative Polies understand that his mind travels there, even from Kalanderkloof, pondering their problems and designing solutions.
Hennie stresses the importance of teamwork and praises the last batch of men who accompanied him.
“The team cooks together and each has his own speciality. Fitter and turner Louwrens Dreyer was our go-to pasta cook; carpenter Michiel Senekal’s mieliepap will be forever unbeaten. His brother Martin – welder/carpenter – made a delicious duck. Bulldozer- and crane operator Polla Malherbe’s leg of lamb was legendary and electrician Gerrie Kotze the team braai-champ.” Hennie makes a mean chicken dish and also boasts having amazing dishwashing capabilities.
The team leader’s state of mind has a huge influence on morale. He has to plan Christmas celebrations in October already. “This year we used washers and jelly babies for the tree,” Hennie smiles.
What’s next? “Aah, I so wish for an impossible project that will occupy his mind like his Antarctic work – but closer to home,” says Helga. “Daniel, Ida and I could do with him being home this coming Christmas. But not at the cost of feeding his soul.”
From the silent strength of stone and the lustrous versatility of silver to the decadent comfort of chocolate, three Garden Route entrepreneurs have brought home the skills they’ve learnt abroad and are finding fulfilment as they practice their traditional crafts in this digital age.
WORDS Clare van Rensburg PHOTOGRAPHS Melanie Maré
The Karoo silversmith
Di van der Riet-Steyn, who has been producing and designing handmade silver and gold jewellery for over two decades, calls her workshop in Prince Albert her “happy place”. Her wooden workbench is laden with a jumbled assortment of pliers, hammers, moulds, saws and casts while medieval metalworking tools line the shelves.
Nature provides an inexhaustible source of inspiration – a mood board holds a collection of organic stimuli, from curled seedpods, brittle bark and dried flowers of the Karoo veld to barnacle shells, delicate corals, feathers and the plated shell of a chiton (marine mollusk). “It’s fantastic to put a collection together from pure inspiration,” she says, “I get completely lost in what I’m doing.”
Di’s Karoo Blue collection of sterling silver jewellery is inspired by pottery shards dug up from her garden. The chips of faded blue and green crockery are the remains of teacups, plates and saucers discarded by early Prince Albert settlers.
Sold from her local shop, Prince of Africa, her collection is timeless and each unique item carries a satisfying weight and substance. The fine metal is melted and alloyed down in pewter and cast into an ingot. The alloy is then hand-worked in its cold state. Di bends and stretches the metal as she passes it through a steel rolling mill. “The metal can be carefully shaped, thinned or drawn out into a wire,” she explains. It is hand cut with precise care, sawn, rounded, hammered and burred to a fine polish using traditional techniques.
Di began working with precious metals while completing her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art at Stellenbosch University. She was awarded the Maggie Laubser scholarship to study enamelling at the John Cass School of Art in the United Kingdom. However, she says she received the peak of her training in fine artisanal jewellery at the Pforzheim Technical University in Germany. “Silversmithing has a strong tradition in Germany since before the Dark Ages,” she says, “and is an integral part of German heritage.”
Di cites her satisfaction at producing unique commissions as a key component of her success. “I love working for clients on a commission basis as one has to employ an instinct about what will suit a person’s tastes.”
The chocolate aficionado
Marita Lamprecht is a zealous chocolatier who wields her tempering tools as she spreads the gospel: “Fine chocolate won’t make you fat, you only need a little to be satisfied. In my job I get to make people smile every day.”
The temperature at La Chocolaterie Rococo in Oudtshoorn is set at a chilly 17°C to ensure the chocolates remain fresh. Delicious aromas of cocoa pervade the air as rows of lavender-infused truffles sit alongside Rococo’s signature lemon meringue pralines. The light lemon cream melts on the tongue and is perfectly balanced by a rich white chocolate shell. Home-cooked Rooibos caramel oozes from the centre of a wafer-thin chocolate disk while the elegant mocha coffee flavour of Diemersfontein Pinotage is expertly incorporated into a velvet ganache surrounded by a shell of bitter dark chocolate.
Inspired by the decadence of 18th Century France, Marita’s creations represent the ultimate in chocolate indulgence. Huge slabs of chocolate are imported from Belgium and meticulously handcrafted into unique delicacies according to traditional Belgian recipes. The chocolates are created in small batches and contain no preservatives.
Tempering white chocolate on a marble slab, Marita expertly runs a pair of stainless steel spatulas through the rapidly cooling chocolate. The viscous liquid is then lovingly piped onto hand-enrobed truffles and finished with a dusting of edible 18- carat gold leaf. “Fine chocolate is absolute sensual decadence. Its high proportion of cocoa and cocoa butter distinguishes ours. We use between 56% and 72% cocoa, and cocoa butter is the only fat,” she says.
Ten years ago Marita left the corporate world to pursue her passion. Marita found a Belgian mentor who helped her cram four years of study into a three-month stay. “It was a baptism of fire. I learned to make pralines like the old Belgian Masters; to temper, set, dip, mould, enrobe, cut and decorate the pralines by hand.”
Since opening in 2007, she has built up a thriving business making elaborately handcrafted pralines and caters to clients from across the country, including functions, weddings, special occasions and turn-down chocolates for boutique hotels.
Marita says her assistant and apprentice, Zelna Julius, plays a major role. “Zelna is my left hand, my right hand and my conscience.” She cites passion, innovation and dedication to quality as the recipe for success. “You can never underestimate the palate of the connoisseur. In the world of chocolate making, you are only ever as good as your last batch.”
A bond set in stone
Matthew and Mark van Rensburg are proud third-generation stonemasons. Following in the footsteps of a great-grandfather, grandfather and two Irish uncles, the George-based brothers learned the family trade in the south of Ireland.
A decade later, they have returned with Irish wives and run a thriving business in brick and stone. They served four-year apprenticeships under heritage stonemasons and today Van Bros Construction employs 13 local masons and has become renowned for distinctive craftsmanship.
Decorative panels of Karoo quartzite are laid in “a random rubble pattern” to impart structural stability. Large blocks of warm sandstone are paired with linear blue-grey slate and framed with red brick corners called “quoins”. “This technique of enclosing a stonework feature with brick corners is borrowed from traditional Irish architecture. It was a time-honoured symbol of the homeowner’s wealth and status,” says Mark. There’s a huge demand for their work as people recognise the beauty and warmth of natural stone, he adds.
Matthew says they were apprenticed to their uncles who have a thriving masonry business in the south of Ireland. “There is no better place to learn the trade of stonemasonry. The history of Ireland is written in her stone walls.” Centuries of Celtic craftsmen built and maintained durable medieval forts and garrisoned towns, decorative archways and distinctive dry-packed farm walls. In fact, explains Matthew, the old masons even had a secret language, Bearlager na Saor, in which they passed on the techniques of their trade.
The brothers are passionate about the integrity of their craft, which is different from tiling and cladding. “We source the best quality Cape sandstone and slate from local quarries,” says Matthew, “we choose each stone by colour and weight, dress and point the individual pieces with chisel and hammer and lay the stone in mortar. These are techniques that have existed for thousands of years, unchanged since the Egyptians built pyramids and the ancient Celts built Stonehenge.”
The process of establishing themselves as traditional stonemasons on the Garden Route wasn’t always easy. Countless hours were spent training and upskilling their team. “Laying stone and brick requires both skill and an artistic eye,” says Mark, “you have got to have a talent for this trade because some stones will just never work in a wall.”
The brothers are united and driven by a sense of pride in their work; “Stone walls are timeless,” says Mark, while Matthew adds: “Working with a material that took 100 million years to form is uniquely fulfilling. There is a deep sense of satisfaction in building a wall that will last for hundreds of years and look even more beautiful as it ages.”
As the international movie industry comes in search of new and exciting locations beyond Cape Town, the Southern Cape is positioning itself to become the film world’s latest destination of choice.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreeden, Diaan de Beer, Picca de Bruyn
Favourable exchange rates, incentives, beautiful scenery and capable production teams count among the many attributes that have lured the international film industry to South Africa, and particularly Cape Town, for a number of years.
International feature films, documentaries, series, music videos and commercials have in fact become so numerous that the Mother City and immediate surrounds are fast reaching capacity, which has prompted international and local production houses to seek out new locations.
Realising the Garden Route and Klein Karoo’s potential to tap into this market, local municipalities and the Cape Film Commission (CFC) have combined efforts to position the region as a new destination of choice for national and international movie makers.
“The filming of the Frans Cronjé movie Born to Win in George was the catalyst for our involvement,” says Carli Bunding-Venter, manager for Economic Development for the George Municipality. “Several of our municipal officials and portfolio councillor Iona Kritzinger had small parts in Born to Win and our political leadership, under the guidance of executive mayor Charles Standers, realised that George and the rest of the Southern Cape could share in the immense benefits of this global industry.
“The associated advantages of any local filming reach far beyond the glamour associated with the movies and their stars. Film crews require a multitude of services including accommodation, catering, security, transport and equipment hire to name just a few. Many existing businesses can grow and develop their offerings in anticipation of the industry’s needs while opportunities may arise for new enterprises to provide specialised services.”
Carli says increased shoots in the area will also give budding local film makers the means to work as interns on set, and provide casual labour for everything from small acting parts to cleaning crews. “It costs a lot of money to make movies and that money may just as well be spent in the Garden Route and Klein Karoo.”
Carli says she contacted Cape Film Commission (CFC) CEO Denis Lillie for advice and guidance, which led to workshops with him and members of the local film industry as well as other role players. It was immediately apparent that the region was already home to a wealth of individuals with great knowledge and experience. “The workshops were excellent platforms to identify who is who and what their strengths are. It was also a great way to let the local industry tell us their needs,” says Carli.
The workshops investigated the region’s strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats specific to the industry. Topping the list of strengths was the diversity and natural beauty of the Southern Cape’s landscapes.
Knysna-based Picca de Bruin is an experienced location scout and manager who has worked on major national and international productions. “Our varied natural landscapes are a major draw card for any production house. Our proximity to the Klein Karoo, forests, fields of Cape fynbos, beaches and the lakes district offer locations for anything from desolated desert scenes to lush jungle settings, and everything in between – and that’s just our natural scenery.” With the exception of skyscrapers, the Garden Route’s towns and cities offer almost any urban setting that a producer or director could wish for, often in a safer environment than the equivalent city location.
Denis says there are other factors that may attract producers to the area. “The climate is fantastic and allows for almost year-round filming. English is widely spoken and the support from willing, able and enthusiastic local crew is another huge positive.”
While the potential is limitless, Denis warns that an international film industry boom will not happen overnight. “There is a very real chance that this industry could grow in the Garden Route, but it will be a slow burn happening over time. The industry must first gain confidence in the local facilities and infrastructure.”
While the international industry may just be starting to test the waters, many South African film companies have already fallen in love with what the Southern Cape has to offer. Besides 2013’s Born to Win, the feature film Knysna was shot in its namesake town in 2014. Other movies filmed locally include Susanna van Biljon (2010, filmed in Uniondale) and Klein Karoo (2013, Swartberg Valley).
And there’s more to come.
Award-winning filmmaker John DeVries, originally from George, intends to shoot a full-length feature in his home town in 2015. While the Cape Town-based producer cannot reveal details until all the legalities have been finalised, John is adamant it will be the beginning of big things for the Garden Route.
John grew up in George and got hooked on film when he watched Steven Spielberg classics such as ET and Jurassic Park. He taught himself the basics of filming and started making mini documentaries on the upliftment work his parents were doing with impoverished children in the townships of George. “These inserts were broadcast by a television station in the United States to raise support for my parents’ work,” he says. “I had to borrow cameras, gear and props from everywhere but somehow we always managed to make things happen.”
Having studied both video and film production, John started TH Films in 2012 with his friend Matt Raubenheimer. “We had no money, just a passion for making movies,” he says. “Since then we’ve broken new ground on what’s possible for upcoming South African filmmakers, winning awards across the world for our short films.”
The list of awards and nominations for TH Films is impressive. In 2013 their short film Scapegoat won the Best Comedy and Best Comedy Screenplay awards at the 168 Film Festival in Los Angeles. Another of their films, Skywatch: The Duster of Doom, was nominated in eight categories in 2014, taking the award for Best Production Design. Other accolades include ten awards at the 48 Hour Film Project in Cape Town in 2013 and another two at the 2014 Filmapalooza in New Orleans for the short film Five Minutes ’Till Noon.
“So far it has been a surreal experience and a massive blessing, but one thing became clear,” John says “This dream we all have of making movies in the Garden Route is within our reach.”
Denis agrees. “The South African Broadcasting Corporation wants to develop more locally produced content and there is no reason why this content cannot be created right here. However, locals will have to create a functional network, undergo the necessary training and link in with various organisations such as the CFC.”
While it may be some time before international stars become a regular sight on Southern Cape streets, the local industry will be working at making and promoting their own videos and films. “The Eden Independent Film Festival is provisionally set to take place in October 2015,” says Carli. “We’re still in the early planning stages with a committee made up of volunteers from the industry, but we are planning a festival that will take its place on the international film festival calendar as a world class event.”
For now, it seems the Garden Route should take a page out of John’s book. “It’s hard to say when my ‘big break’ happened. It was more of a slow climb full of hard work, sleepless nights and sacrifice. And it still is.”
The outside interest is already there, but it is the imminent growth of the local film industry that holds long-term benefits for the Garden Route.