Early pioneers

Cedric Amoils

Cedric was asked to dip into his memories of Veld and Vlei, Greystone, and he has shared some below.

In 1972 I became very involved with Veld and Vlei Adventure Schools. I was still in the Rotary International movement and was on the Board of my club. At a board meeting, the president asked for approval of a donation of R 10 000 to Veld and Vlei and I asked questions about the organisation. All I was told was it was a leadership course for young boys. I stated that I would not consent to the expenditure until I knew more about the purpose of the organisation. I was unable to get satisfactory information and used my veto to stop the donation. I finally telephoned Haywood Tanner-Tremaine the chairman in Estcourt and was invited to spend the December school holidays observing a course. I took my whole family – my caravan and my sailing yacht to Estcourt to see what Veld and Vlei was all about. Once we had set up our caravan and tents on a lovely shady site near the main house we were introduced to Henry and Jo Hyde. They were handling the cooking for the summer camp. Henry asked me what I did for a living and I told him I was professionally a Land Surveyor and Town Planner and property valuator but worked for Metboard. The next day the warden John Hall came to see me and said “My map reading instructor has let me down would you please assist and do the course for us”. It was only one lecture of one hour each day they were in camp and the lecture was at 8.30 a.m. so my day with the family was not messed up. I agreed and was required to meet with the other instructors every evening at 6.00pm for the warden’s debriefing of the day’s activity. Needless to say when I returned to Johannesburg I approved the R10 000 to Veld and Vlei.

The following year I was asked to be the Sailing Instructor and we again made the trip to Estcourt. It was during this trip that I was asked to climb to Bannerman’s Pass and ensure that the patrols went down the right valley to reach Giant’s Castle Pass and not wander into Lesotho. I decided to take my son Howard and Henry Hyde’s son Edward with me. The boys were 12 years old and I considered them old enough to cope with the climb. I was to climb to the hut with two other instructors (for safety reasons). Trevor was just 10 years and he nagged and nagged to be included in the hike. I eventually caved in and agreed he could join us on the hike. We had been walking for about 35 minutes when Trevor started to cry and said “Dad I cannot go any further”. I stopped every one and then addressed Trevor “Son can you see the car from here? – Here are the keys you can walk back to the car and sleep there tonight and we will join you tomorrow afternoon.” He responded” I can’t be by myself all night”. I then pointed to the tent I was carrying above my back pack.  “Son, I can pitch this tent here for you “.  “No” he blubbered “I’m scared to be by myself”. I then took off my wrist watch and gave it to him and said “OK then you will be our timekeeper, we hike for twelve minutes and rest for three minutes and we start on the hour. There were just three minutes to 11.00 a.m. This system kept him going and we reached the hut without further incident.

The hut was fortunately not occupied so we did not have to pitch our tents. It was 3.00 p.m. when we reached our destination and it was a hot summer’s day. I said to the boys “ Guys how about a swim in the stream” Trevor piped up “ Dad we did  not bring costumes” I replied “We don’t need them here “ We all stripped and jumped into the freezing pool.

The sun went down and we all returned to the interior of the hut. It was time for supper and I asked the two lads with me what they had brought for dinner. There were two cans of tomato soup and two tins of bully beef. There were also a lot of Anderson’s biscuits – commonly known dog biscuits because they were hard. They were extremely nutritious and great when dunked in hot tea. It was decided to combine the tinned items into a strong broth and dunk the dog biscuits into it. Everyone except Trevor tucked into the meal. He complained and complained but was told that is your dinner and if you won’t eat it you will go to sleep hungry. He campaigned to eat his survival rations – chocolate and dried fruit – without success. He went to sleep hungry.

Next morning we were all up with the rising sun and I made ready the breakfast. Pro-Nutro with milk – powdered milk mixed with water. Trevor again put his nose up at eating and when I left to climb the pass he was sitting in the corner of the hut sulking.

I climbed Bannerman’s Pass in veldskoens, and on coming down I slipped in the spree and broke a toe on my left foot. I was in agony when I reached the hut. Howard ran out to meet me and with a huge smile shouted “Dad, Trevor ate a huge bowl of Pro-Nutro about an hour ago”. At the hut I managed to strap my broken toe together with another toe and got a little relief from the pain. Trevor was a star on the journey back to the car. He propped me up like a crutch and thus helped me to take the weight of my left foot. He showed me that he was old enough to participate in the hike and the moment of crisis he rose to the occasion.

My involvement with Veld and Vlei increased with time and I was asked to join the Executive of the organisation. A meeting of the Board was called and Heywood, Henry, Alan and I travelled to Sedgefield and Elgin for meetings with the Cape Executive. We drove from Estcourt via Bloemfontein to Colesberg. Alan was the Natal Education Department’s geography examiner and he took over as the map reader for the trip. Some how he got us on the wrong road and we had to ask an old African how to get back on the road to the Cape. We were told to make a left turn at the next farm road and travel south until we reached the railway line. The gravel road gave way to a farm track and then we had to open farm gates and at one stage drove between the farm house and the barn. We were travelling due south according to Henry’s compass and eventually saw a lone light in the distance. When we reached the light it was a railway worker’s cottage and as we pulled up in front of the house the old Afrikaner shouted” Sannie, bring die koffie en branderwyn –ons het gaste.” After coffee and a stiff brandy we were shown how to reach the N1 to Cape Town.

Our visit to Sedgefield Camp site was uneventful. We were amazed at the quality of their facilities, luxury compared to Wagendrift. Our next stop was Elgin, the Appletizer farm where they held the course for Coloureds. We were taken to the camp by the Cape Town Committee – Commander Maynell and his wife. After inspecting the camp we wandered down to the dam to view a sailing exercise. I noticed that one yacht was stuck in the reeds and immediately stripped off my clothes and swam to the yacht and its crew. I boarded the small vessel and removed the rudder and centre board and then held the sail against the wind and the boat reversed out of the reeds. When the yacht was safely in the middle of the dam I replaced the centre board and the rudder and dived overboard and swam back to my clothes. I used my vest as a towel and got dressed. That evening at the cocktail party in our honour Alan introduced me as the instructor who taught the young Coloured men to sail backwards.

After the visit to all the Veld and Vlei sites I discussed with my other executive members the possibility of us running a multi racial course. I received overwhelming support and arranged a meeting with the then Prime Minister John Vorster (1966 – 1978). He was very helpful but suggested that we first do separate courses for Indians and Blacks so that we could assess the differences relative to culture and physical ability. The Indian community were instantly supportive.

I then approached Gatsha Buthalezi the leader of the Zulu Nation. He was totally opposed to a course for Blacks even as a lead up to a fully multi racial course. I set up the first Indian course with the help of the Indian community – they gave me the names of young men who they claimed would make good instructors. I arranged a instructors’ camp during the school winter holidays. Most of the candidates were student teachers and they were very keen to participate in the training. We arrived at Wagendrift camp on a Saturday afternoon and I took them for a long hike of 15 kilometres. I had two white instructors with me, John Thomson my chief instructor and Gareth Peddie my climbing instructor. The new recruits did well on the hike. We observed that they had strong lower body strength – all of them we assumed were soccer players. The next morning John woke the camp up at 5.30 am and shouted “Everybody up we are going for a run” The run was down to the dam. Arriving at the water’s edge he called out “Everybody strip and go for a swim”. Gareth, John and I stripped naked and the candidates just stood there. John then looked at me and said “Mr. Warden, will you show the guys how it’s done!” I walked into the water until waist deep and then rolled onto my back  – this allows your back to take the cold and you can expand your lungs. John then shouted” Hey guys if the boss can do it you’d better follow suit.” Very reluctantly they undressed and got into the water. We discovered that not a single one of them could swim, hence their reluctance to get in the water. Swimming lessons were incorporated into the Indian course. Another adjustment we had to make was on the assault course. The upper body strength of the Indians was much less than the white kids and not one Indian could do a chin up. The final problem that we had to solve was related to diet. We could not let them have their very hot curries and we had to adjust our menus to allow some mild curries. The adaption process went smoothly and that summer we ran a very successful Indian course.

Two years later I got permission to run a multi racial course. This was a major achievement in Apartheid South Africa. I was proud to have been chosen to lead this experiment.  The course started on a Saturday and then on Sunday morning we opened with a non-denominational church service. I had arranged for the local Catholic priest to take the church service. At about midnight I received a call from the good minister to tell me he was unable to meet his commitment as he had to be at the bedside of one of his parishioners who was dying.  I immediately went to our small library armed with a Gideon Bible and Reg Pearse’s “Barrier of Spears” and proceeded to write a suitable church service. Reg’s book provided me with some outstanding motivational pieces. I was fortunate to have read the book before and remembered some of the good passages.

Sunday morning’s church service went off well and at morning tea break my executive colleagues  pulled me aside and in unison said ”Well done Rabbi” The nick name has stuck all these years and even today when I get a call from Henry Hyde he always says “Hullo Rabbi”

Every course has its problems and also some lovely stories to relate. My first Indian course was going well and I as arden paid a visit to my climbing instructor Gareth Peddy. He was having difficulty with a couple of trainees when it came to abseiling. 

He said to me “Mr. Warden please show them how easy it is to do the job”. Now I had never abseiled before but remembered the great abseiling scenes in movies with Michael Caine. I took hold of the rope and bounced down the climb like a veteran. That evening Gareth called me aside and said “I asked you to show them how to abseil – I didn’t expect you to show off and make my task more difficult.”

Then on my first multi racial course I had a patrol leader at my first meeting complain that one of his members stank. I was aware of the possible racial problem; black body odour is very different from white body odour. I asked the leader to identify the culprit; fortunately it was the young Pom lad from the St George’s home for orphans. I gave the patrol leader guy a cake of Lifebouy soap and told him to take his whole patrol to the showers and to wash the Pom and his clothes. In another group I received a complaint from the two very bright black guys that a whitey was taking the “mickey” out of the map reading instructor. On investigation I discovered that the whitey in this case was another boy from St George’s home and he was actually rather backward. So I gave the two black guys instructions to assist the poor soul with his map reading exercises.

The same white guy was brilliant in the aerial log-walking exercise and the two black guys had a fear of heights. Help this time round was given by the whitey to his two mentors at map reading. It was lovely to see the patience that he had when helping his two black friends.

Then there was a big Afrikaner, who was a born leader and had an amazing rapport with his patrol. In his patrol was an Indian guy Ramesh. Now Koos, the leader could not pronouns Ramesh and he said to him “Listen friend, I battle to say your name, so for this camp you will be called Joe.” There was no objection from Ramesh and he became Joe for the duration of the camp. When I was debriefing Koos’s patrol I asked Joe to say a few works to his mates. Joe stood up so that each guy could see him and hear him. He then addressed the gathering “Guys you have to promise me that even though you have my phone number you will not call for at least three weeks.” They all looked at him in dismay and then he said  “Guys it is going to take me three weeks to convince my dear mother that I am no longer Ramesh but I am Joe.”

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