Up close with my district colleagues.

Setting the scene

I love visiting the offices of our Corporate Services. When you enter the room, the energy spikes. When I arrived today, Juleen immediately introduced me to their new colleagues, two young women who already looked comfortable in this office.  Before long we were talking about weight loss and why switching to sweet potato bread was a better alternative to traditional bread.

" Ah no... sweet potato bread? No... that can't be", said Nellie.

The sweet potato bread, recommended by one of our new recruits, was a serious distraction. Juleen got up from her seat to get her head around this story. She was clearly puzzled.

" And exactly how many slices of bread can you get from such a bread? How many slices of bread are there in a normal bread?"

Robin, another newish colleague who was also standing by now with a wad of documents in his hands, confidently stated that there are about twenty slices in a loaf. We had a crisis on our hands. Nellie was still not convinced about the sweet potato transforming into a loaf of bread while Juleen was baffled by the number of slices such a delicacy would render.

Then, from the eastern corner of the room, Izak Boonzaaier, said in his thunderous voice: "Man, twee snye brood is genoeg. Daar oppie plaas het my ma ons net twee dik snye gebakte brood virrie dag gegee en jy's idk virie hele dag. Jy'tie nog gesoekie."

loosely translated: two slices of bread are enough. On the farm, his mom used to give them two thick slices of home-baked bread that served as their food for the whole day. After eating the two slices of that bread, you definitely didn't need other food.)

Izak Bonzaaier, the storyteller, Rugby fanatic and Community man.


Izak helps me to picture the infamous Goliath. He is about 1,9m tall and his voice is deep and commanding ( read "scary" if you hear it for the first time). His physique is reminiscent of a rugby player, whose inactivity has earned him a handsome paunch.  Had I been a rival rugby player in Izak's time, I probably would have run to give him the rugby ball, that's if my knocking knees allowed me to get that far!  Thankfully,  our Izak is a gentle giant on all fronts.

Izak's response to the bread dilemma grabbed my attention. I was intrigued that he grew up on a farm. I pulled my chair closer to his desk and wanted to hear more.  In no time, we had turned back the clock about four decades.  We had left the Corporate offices and found ourselves on the farm in Franschhoek where the Izak lived with his farm labourer parents and siblings.

On the farm in Franschhoek

When Izak reached school-going age, he followed in the footsteps of his older siblings to attend school.  The nearest school was ten kilometers away. Every day at five in the morning, armed with his two thick slices of farm bread and a school bag of sorts, Izak and his friends walked to school. They would return home at five o' clock. By seven the evening, Izak should have cut all the firewood that the family needed.  If the firewood wasn't completed, he would get a solid hiding. No excuses were tolerated.

Izak was a typical naughty boy, he said. He didn't pay much attention at school and lived for rugby.  He still has the school report where in the June comments section, the teacher had clearly given up hope for this rebellious, rugby-crazy kid.

The teacher wrote: "Izak is just wasting his time in school  and it makes no sense for him to study further."  Izak agreed with the teacher because it was normal for the farm children to finish primary school and then find work on the farm. There was nothing else beyond primary school. High schools for coloureds were not even a consideration for this part of the Cape Winelands farming community at the time.

Leaving home to attend high school in Bellville

But, then Izak's older brother, who was working at Simba Chips factory in Parow, persuaded him to come to the big city to attend high school. His brother (who is still working at the Simba factory today) was attending night school at Modderdam High school and he promptly enrolled Izak there for grade 9.

Now Izak was away from home and his big brother was paying for his board and lodging. Life rolled on and by 1976, our farm boy was in Grade 12.  1976 was also the year when the youth shaped the socio-political path for South Africa. Izak threw his weight behind the political struggle, helping to lead their demonstrations at their school. There was no time to study. Marches and meetings had to be planned. Everything was keeping Izak fired up until he got wind of the police that was asking about his whereabouts. Filled with fear, he raced back to the farm and stayed there. He never told his parents the truth because he was afraid that his parents would be evicted from the farm if the farmer heard about his political activities.

When the end of 1976 arrived and it was time to write the Matric Finals, Izak decided to sit for the examinations. He studied from his textbooks because there were no notes. When the results were announced, Izak had made history: he was the first coloured child on the farm and surrounding farms who not only went to high school but went on to pass his Grade 12 examination.

Izak's dream was to become a teacher, but there was  no money to pay for his studies. Izak said everybody, especially his brother, warned him not to tell people he was a student leader.  If people knew you were a student leader during the political protests at the time, you would be denied jobs and you were seen as a traitor.  In 1978, he managed to get a job at the Western Cape Education department where he is still employed.

Displaying the South African Rugby Legends logo

Back to reality

"When I retire I am returning to Franschhoek because I want to plough back into my community. I see how drugs, alcohol and a lack of sporting activities are destroying the young people. I want to start rugby clubs for the children, anything that will help them to become the people they can be. I have been blessed and I want to invest in the youth." That's the plan."

I understand and admire Izak's passion to make a difference. He has been coaching rugby for years and served as Dale Santon, a past Springbok Hooker's coach when Dale was still a junior rugby player.  He serves on the board of the South African Rugby Legends Association and he is actively involved in school rugby in the Mitchell's Plain area. He showed me the school rugby calendar that the schools had sent to him.

I thanked Izak for enriching my life and sharing his powerful story. Now, I said, the chilly weather is no match for the warmth I experienced.

"That's just part of the story," said Izak. I told you about my material world only; there is still the spiritual side I would like to just touch on. Then, in a quiet tone, with misty eyes, Izak shared his deep faith in God who has become his compass. "That's why I cannot even begin to think of myself and my family only,"said Izak. When I retire from this place, I will take on my next mission: giving our children hope and keeping their dreams alive."

After the chat

Stories like Izak's fill all our corridors. Whenever we have the opportunity to feed our souls with inspirational stories like these, we must grab them with both hands. That's what I do and I find another reason to rejoice!


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