A passion for gardening, instinct for business and a chocolaty idea has grown into an award-winning business for George-based entrepreneur Vanessa Jacobs.
WORDS Yolandi North PHOTOGRAPH Desmond Scholtz
Vanessa Jacobs, inventor of the Slab of Seed®, recently won the prestigious Sanlam and Business Partners Limited 2016 Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award. The slab – an ingenious chocolate lookalike made of seeds – forms the core of her Sow Delicious niche gardening business.
“We create inspirational products that make vegetable gardening doable and easy for anyone who wants to try it. We take dreamers and turn them into doers,” says Vanessa.
Initially created to solve her own planting problems, the slab contains open-pollinated heirloom seeds embedded in a specially formulated bio-degradable, pre-fertilised growth medium that allows seeds to germinate in half the time it would normally take and retain water three times longer than the soil they are planted in. A block is broken off and pushed directly into the ground, and the rest left to nature.
The slab idea came from nowhere: “It fell out of the sky and into my head. I saw a chocolate and thought: What is more inspirational than chocolate?” In 2011 Vanessa and her family relocated from Pretoria to the Garden Route after selling their home renovation and telecommunications businesses. The profits bankrolled her and husband Deon’s new plans – gardening for Vanessa and a lecturing post at Africa Skills Village in George for Deon.
Vanessa’s love of gardening developed when she had her own home, where she planted her first food garden. She discovered heirloom seeds while planning her new food garden in Wilderness. Heirloom, or heritage, refers to old-time varieties that can be regrown and passed from one generation to the next. “With the advent of hybrid and genetically modified seeds, thousands of cultivars of heirloom seeds have gone extinct since the 1960s. It is not just fancy or fashionable, but important to keep growing these veggies – to ensure that our food sources are protected for our children’s sake.”
Vanessa’s first soil ‘chocolate’ was created in her garage at home in Wilderness in July 2013. Starting with what she had at the time, she applied her gardening knowledge to combine things that would help plants grow. The product is organic and biodegradable, and attracts earthworms to further fertilise soil. “Slab of Seed sets out to solve common problems experienced by gardeners when working with seed, such as planting too deep, soil that’s not fertile enough, soil evaporation and correct plant spacing. I think we’ve resolved all these issues but we continue to improve the slab as we get customer feedback and learn more.”
Vanessa added Slab of Seed to Sow Delicious in 2013 . It was soon picked up by several magazines and took off almost immediately. Within months she stocked the majority of nurseries countrywide. A major coup was the inclusion of Slab of Seed on the foodie website yuppiechef.co.za in June.
“Initially to us, Slab of Seed was the side dish. What took me by complete surprise is that it has quickly become the main meal and now the pudding too!
“To this day I am flabbergasted at how well South Africans have responded to it. I designed it to solve my own planting problems and am delighted that it solves the same dilemmas of so many others. It is a dream come true to inspire and empower people to grow their own delicious, healthy food.” While Vanessa knew about the Sanlam competition, she only felt the business was ready to enter this year. “I wanted to see how I compared to other South African entrepreneurs, but never expected to win an award. It was an affirmation of my passion, great exposure and the beginning, hopefully, of export opportunities.”
A self-proclaimed ‘serial entrepreneur’, Vanessa says Sow Delicious is unique because it comes from a place of passion. “Everything about this business is me. I stopped seeing problems as insurmountable, but rather as a challenge or stepping-stone that would take me to another level.”
Sow Delicious is available countrywide in nurseries, Melissa’s stores, health stores, delis, farm stalls and selected Super Spars. The range includes nine gourmet mixes, three herb mixes and nine exotic combinations.
123B Merriman Street, George
044 873 3968 sowdelicious.co.za
As organiser of two of the country’s most popular mountain bike events, one of which she co-owns with a cycling industry legend, Zandile Meneses is the proverbial dynamite in a small package.
WORDS Grethe Mattheus PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden
Super-efficient busy body Zandile Meneses, 44, has been impressing cyclists with her event organising skills since taking up the reins at the Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour in 1999. Nearly two decades on she co-owns the increasingly popular Dr Evil stage event and manages the iconic Lions Karoo to Coast (K2C), which both take place in September each year.
Her love of sport, nature and healthy living originates from her childhood growing up on a farm near Lauries Bay outside Port Elizabeth with a sporty father and creative mother. “I remember getting up with my dad at 3am to watch boxing and then going to milk cows with him afterwards.”
Sport was a constant in her formative years and she earned provincial colours in surfing and show jumping. While her journey led her across the globe, the Garden Route has been her base since she was 16 and she now lives in Harkerville. After matriculating at Union High in Graaff Reinet, Zandile traveled and worked her way through Europe, Africa and Israel for five years. One of her most interesting experiences was living on a kibbutz teaching English to Russian Jews. “I spoke no Russian and they spoke no English. It was amusing, but not the most productive job,” she laughs.
Back home, Zandile was waitressing and working on a psychology degree through the University of South Africa (Unisa) when she successfully interviewed at Rotary Club of Knysna to help organise the annual cycle tour during the Knysna Oyster Festival in 1999.
Under her guidance, the event grew from 1300 riders in one road race to 6500 riders in six different events by the time she left in 2012. Recognising the success of a dedicated event organiser, the Lions of Knysna and Uniondale approached Zandile to develop the Karoo to Coast (K2C) in 2002. This event also grew from 1000 riders and now closes entries at 4500 to maximise race enjoyment. “This year we sold out in four weeks, which is fantastic considering the present economic climate and number of events on the racing calendar.
“I think the K2C’s secret to success is the beauty of the ride, which starts with majestic Karoo pass landscape and transforms into spectacular forest areas and a lagoon-side finish in Knysna. The hospitality in Uniondale, where local farmers and Lions cook a great meal for every rider, is something special. It is an unpretentious, quality event.”
In 2012, Zandile and longtime friend and colleague Leon Evans, a legendary cycling route cutter, decided to combine their skills and efforts into a three-day mountain bike stage event. They dubbed it Dr Evil after the nickname Leon earned for cutting challenging routes such as the now internationally famous Cape Epic stage race.
“When we started thinking about dates for Dr Evil, we realised the cycling calendar was extremely full and many riders come from far to experience K2C and would possibly want to make a long weekend of it by doing another race. The Lions Clubs of Knysna and Uniondale graciously let me manage their event and launch Dr Evil on the three days before K2C.”
So, why are these two races so special that thousands of people from all over beg for a ticket every year? “I believe we saw a gap in the market at a time when there were not yet any similar events. The safety of cyclists is top priority and we work to improve this every year. Leon is also an expert route cutter, the scenery is incredible and we aim to understand our customers, so we are always working at developing the events to better address their needs,” she explains.
Another unique element, which also reflects Zandile’s personal approach to living a life engaged with the world around her, is the participation of beneficiary charities. Volunteers from organisations such as the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa), Plettenberg Bay Rotary, Lions Clubs, Wittedrift School and Kwano Cycling Academy help at water points and ultimately create a community invested in the same vision.
“I believe in working hard and doing what you love, while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.” This strong work ethic and pursuit of quality living show in Zandile’s professional and personal lives. Having entered her first triathlon at age 34, Zandile has finished the Half-Ironman twice. These days a balanced lifestyle includes a regular run on the beach and taking a slower pace during the early summer months.
Future dreams include new adventures. “I would love to do something completely different. An event that helps facilitate women to lead holistic, healthy lives. I want to work with smaller groups and incorporate different lifestyle elements, like gardening for example. Ultimately, I enjoy looking after people and helping them to be connected. The dream is still taking shape, but I am excited about the possibilities.”
Decades after Sheila Cooper Collins became famous for making paper with wild animal dung, the renowned multimedia artist continues to turn natural subjects into attention-grabbing art. Most recently, her watercolour rendering of jellyfish decorates stamps commissioned by the South African Post Office.
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS Lisa Leslie
The area was in the grip of a relentless heat wave when South visited artist Sheila Cooper Collins’ Sedgefield Island home, but sitting in her cool, leafy garden, it soon became clear this ‘natural woman’ had found a slice of paradise that suits her perfectly.
Sheila moved to the property in 1992 after relocating from KwaZulu-Natal. In keeping with her deep love for nature, which is evident in her work, her garden plays home to a family of spotted eagle owls, various bird species and many angulate tortoises.
This oneness with nature, and more specifically her ability to accurately portray its detail, has made her one of South Africa’s most respected nature and wildlife artists. It also resulted in her second commission for a stamp sheet and first day covers for the South African Post Office. The assignment last year included a stamp sheet depicting several of the jellyfish species found along the South African coastline as well as two first day covers of the bluebottle and the ‘By-the-wind-sailor’.
“Designing the sheet set, rather than individual stamps, was particularly challenging as the layout and design had to be scientifically accurate in terms of sizes and the placement of each species according to the depth at which they occur in nature. At the same time it had to be aesthetically pleasing to appeal to the buying public.”
Assisted by Professor Mark Gibbons from the University of the Western Cape’s Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, it took Sheila four months to research, design and paint the detailed and colourful illustrations of ten of these species.
This was Sheila’s second commission from the South African Post Office, the first being a series of stamps produced to commemorate National Marine Day in 2001, for which she used silk dyes and watercolours to depict the vibrant colours of South Africa’s marine life. The result was an award-winning set of stamps.
Her artistic path was set in the 70s when, while studying Fine Arts at the University of Witwatersrand, she did illustrations for world-renowned palaeontologists and archaeologists Professor Raymond Dart and Phillip Tobias. “This experience proved invaluable as I learnt to depict subjects with incredible attention to detail.” Specialising in fauna and flora, she has exhibited widely at one-man and group exhibitions in South Africa and abroad since 1979 and continues to do so.
In the 1980s Sheila started recycling her ‘reject’ paintings on expensive watercolour paper into handmade papers and added chopped grasses to the pulp for interest and texture. A visit to the Umfolozi Game Reserve inspired the now famous dung papers – the undigested fibre in rhino dung was perfect for this purpose.
Her well-publicised idea of adding dung fibres to handmade paper were met with a range of interesting responses but she, along with her sons Mark and John Collins, continued to experiment with sanitised dung of various other species, including elephant, kudu and even zebra, each of which produced a very different look and feel.
Once the paper-making was perfected, Mark suggested she print some of her wildlife paintings on it, leading to another journey of trial and error. They eventually developed a unique process of printing onto handmade paper and Sheila’s printed editions and cards went on to receive wide acclaim. The family developed Scarab Paper, a successful business for many years before selling it in 2003.
These days, when she is not teaching others to paint, Sheila spends her time immersed in a wide range of artistic endeavours. She has made a series of three-dimensional busts representing indigenous African people using handmade paper pulp and continues to paint with colour dyes onto silk.
Using sheets from one of her old printing presses, Sheila is once again on the experimental path, painting and etching onto aluminium. “It’s tricky because there is no control over the manner in which the varnish covers the aluminium, but the different effects that can be achieved with diverse techniques are fascinating. Life is too short for all the exciting, fun and creative journeys waiting to be explored.”
CONTACT Sheila Cooper Collins 044 343 1828 and 082 411 0948
Twenty-one years after the Plattner family rescued Fancourt from liquidation, Sabine Plattner reflects on the luxury golf and lifestyle estate’s steady progress to maturity and the dawn of a new era as the reins are passed on to her daughter Tina and a fresh management team.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré
True to form, the town of George was cold, wet and misty the first time prospective buyers Hasso and Sabine Plattner visited the flailing Fancourt estate with their young daughters in 1994.
“We knew nothing about golf, and were initially not interested in buying, but the price was good and we did not want to miss out on an obvious investment opportunity – but mostly, there was an energy and beauty to the place we found irresistible,” says Sabine.
Originally from Germany where Hasso co-founded computer software company SAP, the couple had been visiting South Africa since Hasso’s mother moved here in the 1970s. “We owned property in Cape Town and very much wanted to be constructively part of the transformation of a new South Africa. Fancourt was an opportunity to help a community on several levels – from stabilising the homeowners on the estate’s property value to providing financial and social security for existing and future staff and their families.”
While Hasso was involved in business across the globe, Fancourt became Sabine’s project, but from the start she encountered complications. “The court proceedings surrounding the liquidation, fighting to keep the Fancourt coat of arms, dealings with the homeowners and a riotous staff were just the beginning.
“The men-only golf legacy and its associated pompous approach were unacceptable to me. At our very first visit, when we were considering buying the estate, the girls were not allowed inside the clubhouse and I was only permitted because I was inspecting the facilities for purposes of buying – I was determined that Fancourt would be for families with accommodation and facilities to suit.”
Sabine had big plans for the estate, including building a five-star hotel, a spa, restaurants, shops and more golf courses. “At the time there were only the old Manor House, Montagu golf course and clubhouse, and some private homes. We considered Fancourt a long-term investment – it was not about making quick money, but rather working towards a solid business that could sustain a community well into the future.”
The Plattners poured millions of rands into developing the estate and bought additional adjacent land to fulfil their dreams. Sabine, an avid gardener, found great pleasure in planning the lush gardens and outdoor features. A personal favourite is the tree-lined entrance for which she trucked in mature oak trees from around the country. “Trees are inherent to a place’s atmosphere. To this day, Fancourt continues to plant trees everywhere we can.”
The Plattners’ philanthropic work is world-renowned, especially in education, health care and rain forest conservation. In 2001 Sabine started looking outside Fancourt for ways to help the broader community. “I am a trained school teacher and children’s needs pull at my heart strings.” A trip into Thembalethu culminated in the opening of Nikiwe Educare Centre, and her on-going relationship with the George Child and Family Welfare Society continues to advance the lives of families across the region. Outside South Africa, Sabine remains especially involved in the Republic of Congo and Germany.
Looking back over 21 years, Sabine finds it difficult to pinpoint her Fancourt highlights. “There are obvious things like turning an old air strip into the world class The Links golf course and hosting the President’s Cup, the 46664 concert and the Women’s World Cup of Golf. But for me, the entire Fancourt journey also reflects my personal development from a relative wild child into contented maturity. It was a hard walk in which I had been emotionally involved, but ultimately it has come full circle.”
With maturity comes new focus and while Fancourt may have been ticking over financially, Sabine believes it is time for a stronger business approach. “We have been fortunate to have the financial resources to grow and weather the storms, but it is time to stabilise and be a strong, profiting business that can forerun prosperity for the town and region. Over the past five years we have restructured and streamlined our processes and last year appointed new CEO Georgie Davidson to take us into a new era,” says Sabine.
Another development is the increased involvement of Tina, the Plattners’ oldest daughter, at Fancourt. “Hasso and I had been consolidating our interests to ensure that our children were not left with financial burdens when we are gone, and the girls could decide where they wanted to be involved. Tina chose Fancourt and Steffi got involved in Germany. It is very rewarding to have one of my daughters take over the reins of a project that has been such a big part of my life for so long.
“While so much has happened at Fancourt, and to me, in the past 21 years, a visit here still holds for me the magic of that first time in 1994. When I drive through that tree-lined entrance, it still feels like home.”
From the small town of Sedgefield, 3D graphics creator Steve Corder designs characters that have taken the international stage. Working with, among others, American multinational technology giant Intel, this family man’s inbox will have you gaping.
WORDS Ingrid Erlank photograph Desmond Scholtz Animation Steve Corder
The Intel contract is, however, just the latest achievement for this self-taught 3D designer whose company, 3D Graphics, was possibly one of the first in South Africa to sell online 3D characters, backgrounds and other items to a worldwide market of hobbyists, film studios, mobile and computer game developers.
Steve, a qualified electrical engineer with a longstanding fascination with animated characters, says: “I took art at school and messed around with trying to draw my own characters at one stage, but it was only when companies like Pixar started to bring out full-length 3D animations that I really became excited. I was inspired to create my own characters.”
Steve experimented with creative and animation programmes, and soon found a gap in the market. He and Hannelie, his computer programmer wife, spent every spare moment in front of their computer screens. “It was time-consuming and a huge learning curve, but we were determined and persisted.”
Initially Steve sold his work on the United States-based digital animation site Renderosity though he now sells mainly through DAZ 3D. The couple made their efforts viable by selling more for less. Getting paid in US dollars helped and soon they were able to leave their day jobs in Johannesburg.
“We had a very specific dream – we wanted quality of life at the coast, working shoulder-to-shoulder, and with a lot of time to explore nature and have fun. Sedgefield’s slow life was the perfect fit.”
Steve and Hannelie built up a portfolio of products that have been used in applications such as television advertising, children’s TV, storybook illustrations, as well as mobile and computer games.
3D Graphics did well, but a request for a Skype voice call from Los Angeles was the start of something much greater. “Although I prefer typed chat for record purposes, I agreed to take a call between 4pm and 5pm, but when a call came in at ten minutes to 5pm, I hung up the call and sent a text saying it was too late to start a chat. Our family time is important to me and I’m strict on keeping my work to working hours only,” says Steve.
The next day at exactly 4pm, Steve took the call – it was Intel Labs venturing director Thomas Sachson, who had come across Steve’s work while searching for animators online – and so began his long-term contract with Intel.
With the company’s technical team in Beijing and main team in Los Angeles, working hours are complex. “They have come to respect my working hours and will often make joking comments if they want my feedback and realise it’s out of my 8am-5pm work day!”
Intel initially planned on more than 20 3D characters per month. “We investigated sub-contracting several animation artists but soon realised the uniqueness of our characters is our winning game. Now, we do what we do with the time that we have.”
Through Intel’s smart phone chat app, voice and text are used to vividly animate some of Steve’s characters. Steve says creating them is immeasurable fun, and the Intel contract is affirmation of his 3D design style.
“The fact that Intel could have contacted anyone in the world but chose me was a huge boost. Although I’ve worked with some big worldwide brands before, this contract is by far the biggest. Through the Intel contract, I’ve also gained a ton of experience working with companies like Sony Animation, LEGO, Coca-Cola, Mars, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL), as well as various pop stars, actors and Hollywood personalities.
“I don’t see the Intel contract as an achieved goal but rather a step to greater things.”
Steve would like to visit Pixar and Sony Animation to experience a movie production. “These days I receive files of some of these movie characters in my inbox, which still, to this day, gives me goose bumps.”
He says his favourite character is whichever one he is working on at the time. “My characters tend to gain a life and personality of their own, and I enjoy exploring their quirks.”
He advises would-be animators to be themselves and to have fun. “Find a style you are passionate about and focus on breathing your own creativity and flair into it. Be inspired by others but don’t try to copy them.
“Animation is a big field full of wonderfully creative jobs. Keep the creative spark alive by pushing yourself and constantly experiment with new ideas.”
Plettenberg Bay’s Tshisa Talent project has already landed a local winner a movie role, and has hosted high profile judges such as comedian Marc Lottering, Freshly Ground lead singer Zolani Mahola and Idols winner Elvis Blue. But the energetic founder of Tshisa and Lunchbox Theatre has bigger plans to develop talent beyond Bitou’s borders.
WORDS Athane Scholtz PHOTOGRAPH Melanie Maré
An interview with South is not the only thing on Stuart Palmer’s to-do-list. Barely two days after the finals of the three-month-long Tshisa Talent project, he is back on the planks and rehearsing for a show at the Harare Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe. In the coffee shop where we meet, I am the first in a row of appointments and already the third media interview since the weekend.
“The success of Tshisa and Lunchbox, and a new family, has filled up my life significantly since we arrived here in 2007. It is such a privilege to be able to do it all here on the Garden Route,” says Stuart.
“Tshisa Talent offers performing artists from previously disadvantaged communities more than just an opportunity to develop and showcase their talent. Finalists receive development training in a range of skills that will help them pursue their dreams – including business and marketing skills, fundraising know-how, and singing and dancing lessons. The winners are given prizes that will help their promotion as artists and typically include recording time, promotional photographs, clothing, business cards and more. The whole idea is to empower them to manage their own talent and make a living from it.”
Since the first talent show in the streets of Plett in 2009, Tshisa has had a number of successes. Most prominently 2012 overall winner, Louisa Harker from New Horizons, also won the singing category of the South African Championships of Performing Arts in 2013 and last year secured a supporting role in Regardt van den Bergh’s Uitvlucht.
“While outside successes are great, it is not our primary goal. Tshisa is about helping people to stand on their own feet and to give them confidence and life skills that will ultimately benefit their families and the broader community.”
Born and raised in Cape Town, Stuart has been part of theatre groups since he was ten years old. After school he joined a local amateur dramatic society, did an acting course and landed parts in movies and advertisements.
He travelled extensively before meeting Vincent Meyburgh, a professional actor with a passion for street theatre. The pair developed several shows under the banner of Jungle Theatre Company, which still does drama workshops and educates school children. “Once I experienced the spontaneous and animated response of children exposed to live and interactive theatre, advertising roles and even the occasional movie just weren’t as appealing.”
When Stuart’s daughter Anela was born in 2007, he and wife Rhian Berning, who was raised outside Plettenberg Bay, decided to move here.
Lunchbox Theatre was established soon after to educate, entertain and employ through theatre. The schools programme duplicates Jungle’s work in the Southern Cape and has performed over 360 shows to more than 60 000 children. It also features at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival.
Lunchbox Theatre colleague Mncedisi Ncedani suggested open mic shows as a way to identify and grow local talent. The concept was developed into what is today known as Tshisa Talent. “People shout ‘Tshisa!’, the Xhosa word for ‘it’s hot!’, when a performance gets them going, which is the perfect name to inspire performers to captivate and entertain their audience.”
Tshisa enjoyes support from the National Arts Council of South Africa and the attendance of high profile judges such as Marc Lottering, Zolani Mahola, Elvis Blue, Wendy Oldfield, actress Nomboniso Paile and Grahamstown National Arts Festival artistic director Ismail Mahomed.
A Tshisa Talent website, originally intended to promote competition winners, unexpectedly turned into the Tshisa Talent Agency for professional artists when an increasing number of requests for entertainment at functions were received. An additional site dedicated to the talent show is now being developed.
“My next goal is to duplicate Tshisa Talent in Knysna and George, with long-term plans to include the Eden District. We are in discussion with potential role players and hope to see this project grow so that the region’s undiscovered talent can be developed to ultimately employ and uplift entire communities. This is a dream we can all aspire to,” says Stuart.
It takes patience and a slow, steady approach to catch crocodiles or count birds – experience that stands the owner and manager of the Sedgefield Slow Festival in good stead as she puts the small Garden Route village on the tourist map and advocates wholesome family living.
WORDS Jacques Marais PHOTOGRAPH Desmond Scholtz
“The Sedgefield Slow Festival is so much more than just a collection of events. It’s about having fun the old-fashioned way, making lasting memories and celebrating the generally undiscovered beauty of this special town,” says festival owner Amanda Dixon.
Since its launch in 2010, the festival has grown from five to 30 events planned for this year’s festival, taking place from
3 to 5 April. With a budget of only R20 000, last year’s festival raised R8,2 million in media public relations exposure for Sedgefield. Attendance and participation has also steadily increased each year.
“The festival’s success is based on people’s desire to relive the quality things they did in their childhood – a time when there were no cell phones, laptops and electronic games to be distracted by. Activities include family-orientated events such as a sandcastle-building competition, drive-in movies, anything that floats, barefooted bowling, a fashion show featuring recycled attire and a street parade – all things that express the light-hearted spirit of Sedgefield locals who like to savour life the ‘slow’ way while taking care of the beautiful environment they live in. Proceeds go towards local charities, schools and non-profit organisations.”
It all started when local residents and friends Jean Wright and Di Young envisioned a way to put Sedgefield on the Garden Route tourism map. The town was also in the process of registering for international Cittaslow Town status*. Together with Amanda and her husband Mark, the friends brainstormed a way to give the town its own brand and identity, and to showcase the stunning beauty of the town as a whole. “Initially we thought of hosting a single event, but then realised that a handful of events would make a festival,” Amanda explains. “And we knew that with a captive audience already in Sedgefield during the Easter weekend, this would be the perfect time to host a new festival. The religious connection also fit in perfectly with a festival based on family and, essentially, Christian values.”
Amanda chaired and organised the inaugural Slow Festival in 2010. She spent of her own money and resources to market and organise the event, believing it would ultimately reap benefits for the town and region. However, the Garden Route was still reeling from the effects of a worldwide recession, and funding and sponsorship was one of the immediate challenges. By the end of 2013 the festival was in danger of closing down and, while locals all jumped in to save the day, the finances remain in the red for now. “We need a title sponsor who can ensure the festival’s sustainability for the foreseeable future. Our dream title sponsor is one who understands and supports the ethos
of community, slow living, wholesome food produce and quality family values.”
While best known locally for her event managing skills, Amanda’s talents and interests range more widely. After completing a Sports Science degree at Stellenbosch University, her passion for wildlife, nature and conservation prompted her to work for the Endangered Wildlife Trust for a year. She also completed the CCAfrica (now andBeyond) ranger-training course and worked as a ranger at Phinda Forest Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal. After a short stint of aerial game census and capture, she joined the University of Florida in the United States in conducting research on Morelet’s crocodiles (Mexican crocodiles) in Belize, Central America in 2003. “It was the most incredible year. It was absolutely amazing learning how to pilot airboats and going out at night to catch a crocodile by hand!”
A year after her return to South Africa, an adventure race in the Garden Route changed her life forever. She met Mark Dixon, who was marshalling the race, and was later employed by event managers Magnetic South, hosts of the event. “Before I knew it, I was living and working in paradise!”
In 2009 Amanda started her own company, Tumbleweeds Events, which now owns and manages Sedgefield’s Slow Festival. Between events she and Mark work on bird census projects across the country.
“It has been very rewarding to see the festival grow each year, and especially wonderful to see the community getting so involved. I believe the reason their support keeps growing is because this festival is not about making money.
It gives back to the community, celebrates family life and promotes good, old-fashioned fun. It’s unique and warm, and embodies a whole lot of heart.”
* Sedgefield was declared Africa’s first Cittaslow Town in October 2010. Inspired by the concept of ‘slow food’, Cittaslow is a worldwide membership organisation promoting quality of life and resisting fast-lane lifestyle. Cittaslow (meaning ‘slow city’) originated in Italy in 1999 and represents nearly 200 towns across the world. Abiding by a list of values aimed at improving quality of life, registered Cittaslow towns celebrate cultural diversity and promote the specialties of their own people and surroundings.
Twenty years after Alison Botha’s brutal attack made international headlines, the story of her miraculous survival and inspiring message is reaching a new audience on stage and in front of the cameras.
WORDS Melissa Reitz PHOTOGRAPH Raquel Stephenson/Create Design
In December 1994, 27-year- old Alison was abducted from outside her flat in Port Elizabeth and driven to a remote spot where she was raped, disembowelled and left for dead. Following her remarkable physical and emotional recovery, she has spent most of her subsequent life inspiring others worldwide through her book I Have Life and inspirational talks.
Recently, a stage adaptation of I Have Life (penned by Marianne Thamm) and the imminent filming of a documentary have affected her deeply, says Alison. “Reliving the ordeal was emotional at times but also gave me perspective again. It reminded me that, wow, I actually survived that!”
A Garden Route resident for 10 years, Alison lives in George with her two sons, Daniel, 10, and Mathew, 7. South caught up with her for a chat, finding her warm, funny and down to earth. “I don’t see myself as superhuman, I chose to survive that night because I felt I was worthy of my life.”
Moved by Alison’s book, former M-Net presenter Suanne Braun convinced award-winning director Maralin Vanrenen to write and direct a stage adaptation of the book. Part of the Johannesburg Women’s Festival in August 2014, the show, which starred Suanne, received standing ovations every night of its two-week run.
The audience was given insight into Alison’s mind as a background cast voiced her thoughts throughout the ordeal. Despite the emotional challenge of reliving her attack through the play, Alison delighted audiences with a surprise appearance after some of the performances. “I loved being part of the theatre experience and was so impressed by Maralin and the cleverness of the show.”
Plans are afoot to feature I Have Life at festivals in 2015 and a tour to Port Elizabeth, George and Cape Town is on the cards.
Inspired by Alison’s talk, Uga Carlini, filmmaker and CEO of Cape Town-based film company Towerkop Creations, obtained the rights to make a 90-minute documentary about Alison and her life. Titled Alison, filming started in November and follows her daily life. It will be released in South African theatres in English and Afrikaans, and the producers are hoping for an international release at global film festivals.
Towerkop plans to follow the documentary with a full-length feature film.
Recent focus on her story, however, has not all been positive. Alison is faced with the possibility of her attackers being released from prison despite having received life sentences and a judge’s recommendation at the time that they should never be released back into society.
In 2011 a legislative change allowed all prisoners sentenced before 2004 and serving a life sentence the right to apply for parole if they completed 13 years or more. This means about 5 000 serious offenders, including Alison’s attackers Theuns Kruger and Frans du Toit, could walk free. Unsettled by the news, Alison says: “It’s a bigger problem than just my attackers getting out, it’s all 5 000 of them!”
Although both applied and were denied parole, they can apply again in August 2015 after serving 20 years. Alison says she will have to make an application to Correctional Services to be included in the hearing. “The police want the victims to have their input but the system isn’t user-friendly and I feel that this needs to be improved so that everyone affected by major crime can have their say.”
The final decision on their release lies with the Minister of Correctional Services and already 11 000 people have signed a petition to keep them behind bars. To sign the petition, visit www.alison.co.za
Alison has not let this potential setback taint her positive outlook on life. “I can’t allow myself to believe they will get out.”
Instead, she focuses on her number one priority – being a mom. To spend less time away from home due to her speaking engagements, Alison recently joined the real-estate business. “I love living in the Garden Route, so the idea of matching people to their dream homes in this area appeals to me,” she says of her new career.
Twenty-five years after her near-fatal 18-metre plunge down a stage lift shaft at the State Theatre in Pretoria, Gaynor Young has reinvented herself as an acclaimed blogger and writer with an audience of tens of thousands – a following which many a leading actress can only dream of.
WORDS Melissa Reitz PHOTOGRAPH Elmine Botha
In 1989 then 28-year-old Gaynor was a rising star in theatre and film, but her career was cruelly interrupted and her life irrevocably changed when she fell five storeys during a scene change of Camelot. Gaynor, now 52, suffered multiple fractures and brain damage, including the loss of 98 percent of her hearing, most of her sight and proper mobility on the right side of her body.
“I had a choice: to remain in that hospital bed or try and make a new life for myself,” she says. Those who have followed Gaynor’s difficult yet inspiring story know that she has not only recovered to the point of independence, but has spent a large part of her ‘new life’ motivating others through her books, shows and talks.
Her latest triumph is being chosen as runner-up in the entertainment category of the 2013 SA Blog Awards for her highly personal and inspirational blog ’ear ’ear, in which she shares her insights and the trials and tribulations of living an independent life as a disabled person. Her humorous and thought-provoking musings about everything from disabilities, family and friends to beloved pets and even current world events have drawn followers from around the globe. With a new blog posted every Friday ’ear ’ear regularly receives up to 65 000 hits via Facebook, and at last count her followers on Twitter exceeded 4000.
South visited Gaynor at her home in George, where she has lived in her cosy flat since 2006 after moving to the Garden Route from Durban to be closer to her parents and family.
With posters of past stage performances adorning the walls and Perdita, her little dog, curled up on my lap, I immediately feel at home. Gaynor’s genuine appreciation for life and people is infectious. At times she has me giggling as she slips into a brief theatrical performance of the story she is telling and then, just as naturally, stops to share something intimate and personal with a trust that comes from having to surrender to life’s unpredictability.
She says her blog, started in March 2013, naturally progressed from her other writing and performing endeavours over the past 25 years.
It started with her return to the stage four years after the accident, despite being told that she would never act again. My Plunge to Fame in 1994 and Gaynor Rising in 2004 were both publicly acclaimed and received standing ovations.
“Through these shows, I realised how much I loved connecting with people by telling my story.” She developed a motivational talk, which she continues to share around the country. The success of the first play also resulted in Gaynor’s highly acclaimed autobiography, My Plunge to Fame, which was published in 2000 and was nominated for several awards.
Recovering her hearing following a cochlear implant 18 years after the accident and another last year, inspired the name of her blog. “I am so grateful I wasn’t born 50 years earlier, otherwise this would never have been possible!” says Gaynor, for whom the implants have been life-changing. “I can now hear the birds sing and I remind myself to always listen. One hears then with a difference!”
Her blog is testament to Gaynor’s refreshing take on life since being able to hear in “stereo” and she admits the writing has given her a new perspective. “I look at the world differently now that I write a blog and realise there is a story in everything.”
She adds: “No one has a happy life. We have happy moments. I am content, and for that I am grateful.”
WORDS Colleen Blaine PHOTOGRAPHS Vernon Gibbs-Halls
Vernon Gibbs-Halls is passionate about the natural environment and absolutely committed to maintaining the Garden Route’s diverse ecology.
South visits Vernon at his home in Hoekwil, where we sit at his kitchen table. His devotion to the natural world is heart-warming and so genuine that my own commitments pale in comparison.
I expected to have a long discussion about the mammoth duties facing Vernon in his capacity as chairman of the Garden Route Initiative and environmental officer at Eden District Municipality. Instead he smiles at me and says: “Working with nature is not hard work because nature is not about hard work.”
His love affair with nature began at Arendhoogte Wildlife Sanctuary outside Riversdale, which he co-owned, and through the years he realised that working with animals and the environment was not just his job, it was his whole life.
In addition to his many duties as environmental officer for Eden District Municipality, Vernon became chairman of the Garden Route Initiative in 2008, which has as its main purpose the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Biosphere Reserve. The project has already secured R200 000 grant funding from the World Wildlife Fund, which is being used for an extensive public participation process, consultation with municipalities and other role players, and on-going awareness and education campaigns.
The envisioned reserve is expected to incorporate the furthest boundaries of George all the way east to Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape, and should include the entire coastline and marine environment, lakes, rivers and estuaries, the Outeniqua Mountains and the Baviaanskloof – and will border important sister reserves such as the Gouritz cluster.
“On the Garden Route we are blessed with such a diverse spectrum of biomes in a relatively small area, which is in fact one of the last remaining pristine natural corridors for animal and insect movement. The need for this biosphere reserve is like the need for sustainable living; it is not a nice-to-have it is a must-have.”
Vernon explains that the biosphere reserve will ensure the rapidly declining natural wealth of the Garden Route will be protected, which in turn will safeguard its associated tourism industry and related economy.
The stipulations of such a reserve will inform matters of future development, agricultural practices, the establishment of natural corridors, cultural preservation initiatives, education and awareness programmes, and more.
The draft application, which is being made through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme, has at its core the need for communities to become custodians of this reserve. In effect it means hundreds of hours of Vernon and his team’s time in sharing their vision with others – and countless locals to make that vision work on the ground. Fortunately this is already a very big part of what he does as his involvement in environmental education projects throughout the Garden Route is extensive.
“The only way to learn about the environment is by interacting with it directly. We take children up rivers and onto beaches so that they can experience and then understand nature with all their senses. If they touch it, feel it, smell it and see it, they understand why they need to preserve it.”
Vernon’s on-going efforts have also earned him several conservation awards, most recently the National Kudu Award and Green Champion of the Western Cape Award. “While I am honoured to receive awards such as these, the true reward for me will be when the biosphere reserve finally becomes a foreseeable reality. We still have a long way to go, but I know that in the end it will be worth the time and effort. I really believe that the people of the Garden Route have it in them to make this goal happen.”
Members of the public, conservation and community organisations, and all other interested and affected parties are encouraged to get involved in the many aspects of establishing this reserve.