Former seafarers gather for annual reunion

Edward Bender, Michael October, Anthony Powell, John Bloem and Paul Frantz, show the banner especially made for the occasion.

Former Safmarine seafarers hosted their second annual reunion with their families at Kewtown Primary on Saturday November 25.

The event had a festive atmosphere about it, with the school’s field being transformed into a big braai area, and children frolicking happily on the jumping castle and having their faces painted, while the entertainment line up included the likes of Rashaad Voegt, known for his involvement with the group The Boys.

This reunion is the brainchild of Ikey Wiener, himself a former seafarer, who came up with the idea after attending one too
many funerals of former colleagues.

“I am the youngest one of many of them. I saw the need when I used to go to former colleagues’ funerals, where I met other former colleagues. Many of the older ones felt forgotten. I realised it would not always be possible to visit them individually, and the idea of a reunion came about.

“I started to gather telephone numbers as I went along. Within two years of attending funerals, I collected 302 telephone numbers. I then started a WhatsApp group, and now all of us are in constant communication. Those who only have landlines, I make a point of calling them. This is how our first reunion came about. At our first reunion, some of them hadn’t seen each other in 45 years,” Mr Wiener said.

The oldest surviving seafarer, Stanley du Plooy, 82, said he joined Safmarine in 1959.

“I still consider myself a ‘Safmariner’. I spent the latter part of my life at sea. I retired 33 years ago. I was part of a group who initiated the ‘shore gang’.

“We saved the company money by finding work to do for those who were on leave, while the ship was docked.

“Usually, they would just laze at home and receive their salaries while on leave, but we found work to do while on shore. We also secured the cargo ourselves,” Mr Du Plooy said.

Valentino Clarke, who was a seafarer in the 1970s, said it had not been easy working under apartheid law.

“We worked on the SA Weltevreden, one of Safmarine’s heavy weight ships. With all the racist ideologies on that ship, we still sang songs and cracked jokes. It was proven that the Cape Town-based sailors were the greatest in the world, because Safmarine won many awards because of our efforts.”

Godfrey Koff joined in 1967. He too, has fond memories of his time there, agreeing that there were tough times as well.

“We were so committed, that when it seemed there was no way, we made a way. We were iron men with wooden ships. Today, one gets wooden men with
iron ships. I remember we also smuggled in music from abroad that was banned in South Africa, like soul music and R&B
(Rhythm and Blues)”, Mr Koff
said.