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Three generations to build a heritage

Sep 18 2012 10:55
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Fin24 user Ike Jakson tells how a group of men, hard hit by the recession, helped build Clanwilliam with picks, shovels and old screeching wheelbarrows, and dedicates his
Heritage Month celebratory story to his late father.

AMERICANS often refer to the legacy of a president when he leaves office at the end of term; it is different with building your heritage. With some, it may require three generations straddling three centuries.

Our heritage, and the story of my father, has left deep memories and teachings with us and the two follow-on generations.

His face -  as in the old black and white picture of a group of workmen taken in 1931 in Clanwilliam, Western Cape - is etched in our hearts and minds, as someone who knew how to roll up his sleeves and fight for survival.

A recession always has the greatest effect on the poor; in this case Clanwilliam was hit harder than many other communities in South Africa because it was, and still is, surrounded by a harsh landscape. 

Following so soon on the Johannesburg mining strike where (Prime Minister Jan) Smuts had to disperse rioting miners with live ammunition (makes Marikana seem like deja vu),  there was no work in Clanwilliam except for those who could and were willing to do it with pick, shovel and old screeching wheelbarrow.

The photo below shows the first group of men who rolled up for work when the government announced that they needed men to build a dam wall in the Olifants River. 

The allocated spot was in a river bend between two substantial high cliffs of solid rock. They set out to clear the site in the summer of 1931, after the river had subsided from the winter rains in the Ceres Mountains; the target was to have a cofferdam and a canal in place before the rains of June 1932 came.

Look at the hard facial lines but eager dispositions in the picture; those were men willing to work for a few shillings a day and they were proud of it.

This is the story of one of them as relayed by his children and their children.

They tackled the terrain with gusto and determination, sleeping in tents in the open veld with wives and young lovers delivering food that they ate as their men laboured under the hot sun.

The side foundations to hold the wall were further strengthened by huge boulders dug into the ground and concreted to hold any pressures. 

All they had to hope for was a mild winter in Ceres 1931 and they were lucky.

At the end of the summer of 1931/32 the cofferdam and the canal escape, high up near the top of the first wall, handled a low winter rain and they knew they had succeeded. 

The job was completed early in 1932 and the valley below the dam had water.

In years to come the wall was raised twice; first in 1964 and later in the 1980s.

By then they had started another dam, Bulshoek weir, that would flow maybe 30 miles downstream into a rathe (archaic for booming) canal, from there to Vredendal. 

At that time Vredendal resembled Van Rhynsdorp - a dry and desolate land.

Today Vredendal produces some of the best export grapes in the world for the northern hemisphere.

Boy oh boy, and a sultana jeripigo without equal anywhere else in the world; that is besides the benefits and the growth in the citrus crops upriver from the dam as far up as Citrusdal and another 10 miles beyond that.

Those men in the picture produced a heritage lasting to this day.

One man in that picture was born in 1897; he married in 1936 and produced five offspring during the period from 1938 to 1951.

He has a granddaughter with a specialist degree in trauma casualties and a second in emergency medicine. She is now a British citizen.

One of his siblings has a daughter who now lives in Chicago, USA with her South-African born husband and their three children. They are both IT engineers.

The first of the siblings became an investor clerk and empowered himself with a BCom degree through evening school; his son obtained a BCom in transport and today runs a big division of a large company recently in the news for their excellent figures in 2012.

The cloak as leader of the clan was handed to him when his father crossed the river three years ago; the entire clan concurred with the decision.

Well, I almost forgot the second sibling. That is me. The second son and sometimes referred to as the one in the middle because as was family practice in those days, the first sibling was the only one ever getting new clothes.

When he outgrew them they were passed on to me while my younger brother were anxiously watching my growth because he was next in line and it would be new clothes for him.

Our father would have been 115 had he lived today, but I was - no, am -  proud of him. My children know how much I loved and respected my father and they have been told to do him proud, or...

I am father to the daughter in England, and her older brother is highly respected and well known in his chosen career.

I visit Clanwilliam at least once a year and allow the nostalgia of my barefoot childhood and youth to cloak me gently in soft, happy memories of the best times of my life.

IkeJ: In memory of my late father.

 - Fin24

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