Strydom van der Wath during his last visit, under his palm trees.
Strydom van der Wath died on 16 June 2011 at the age of 76. He felt a connection, like few others, to the soil on which hegrew up. Successful as a farmer, committed to the community, always prepared to extend a helping hand to fellow human beings. The Gondwana Collection Namibia, too, is much indebted to him and considers itself the caretaker of the farmland which Strydom van der Wath held very dear since his childhood and of the homestead, now the Kalahari Farmhouse, which he built for his family. With his ‘green fingers’ he created the enchanting atmosphere, which is characteristic of wine estates in the Western Cape, on his own property.
The roots of the Van der Wath family are indeed in South Africa. Strydom’s father, Johannes Gert van der Wath, was born in Ladybrand in the southeast of South Africa in 1903, shortly after the Boer War (1899 – 1902) in which his parents had lost everything. Only with hard work, determination and frugality they managed to send their eight children to school and later buy another farm. Johannes Gert also had diligence and a love for agriculture in his blood. He finished his studies of agriculture with the best results in his age group and returned to Stampriet in 1928 as headmaster of the Burgerskool. In addition to the usual subjects the basics of agriculture were also taught at the ‘Citizen School’. Johannes Gert attached great importance to practical work and established vegetable gardens. The harvest was sold to the school’s hostel at reasonable prices and to dealers in Stampriet and Mariental.
In 1944 Johannes van der Wath resigned from teaching to become a farmer – he had acquired the farm Stampriet a little earlier and soon took up Karakul farming, which at that time was still the German farmers’ domain. He invested the profits made during the Karakul industry’s prosperous years into other farms near Stampriet and near Upington. He was also involved in the Agricultural Union and in politics. In 1968 he was appointed Administrator (the highest-ranking government official) of South West Africa, and later became a member of the South African cabinet as deputy minister for South West Africa.
Strydom van der Wath was born in 1934 and grew up with two siblings, older brother Corrie (born in 1932) and younger sister Susanna (1938). From an early age he helped with the chores on his father’s farm. One of his first tasks was to plant a row of palm trees in a semi-circle in front of the house. With two workers he dug holes into the hard lime soil. The palm trees are still there and have grown to formidable heights, which makes them easy to spot from a distance. They also provide ample shade for the garden.
Like the palm trees, Strydom established firm roots in Stampriet. Whereas his brother Corrie managed the farms near Upington, Strydom was in charge of the property around Stampriet, and he was highly successful. By increasing Karakul breeding and production herds to up to 3,000 sheep each he became one of Namibia’s most renowned Karakul farmers for years. He also won many awards with his Charolais and Afrikaner cattle. Since the farm Stampriet had a ready supply of water he planted lucerne and table grapes which were even exported to Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.
Strydom van der Wath always was a committed team player. In his youth he played for the Stampriet rugby team which even won quite a few matches against South African teams. Later on, as a successful farmer, he was chairman of the Stampriet Farmers Association for years, and he chaired the Karakul Breeders Association from 1982 to 1997. He was awarded the Golden Lamb Award by the Karakul Council in 1996 and appointed honorary chairman for life. He helped wherever he could.
His family life with his wife Amelia, a son and two daughters was fulfilled as well. When his parent’s house became too small he built a larger one on the same spot. That house is still there. After handing the farming business to his son Johannes Gert (named after Strydom’s father) he and his wife retired to Henties Bay. Gondwana bought part of the farm and the family residence in 2009 and carefully transformed the buildings into accommodation facilities. The former lounge with the massive fireplace built from natural stone was turned into a restaurant. All around the farmhouse a small farming business for growing vegetables was established: Gondwana’s Self-Sufficiency Centre (SSC). It also sports a butchery and a cheese dairy.
And so the Farmhouse and SSC continue a story which goes back to the start of the previous century. Half a year before his death Strydom van der Wath visited the Farmhouse once more, inspected the SSC and spent an emotional moment as he stood under the very palm trees which he himself had planted in a semi-circle more than 60 years before, when he was 14 years old. “It makes me very happy that agriculture is flourishing again in the place where my father started it.” It was Strydom’s wish to be buried on the small cemetery close to his former home. His last resting place overlooks the farmland, the vines and the palm trees.
Gondwana herewith pays its respects to the agricultural achievements of Strydom van der Wath.