Safmarine seafarers share their stories

Harold Wicomb, of Grassy Park; Robert Benjamin, of Mitchells Plain; Cecil Steede, of Grassy Park, Geoffrey Jansen, of Mitchells Plain and Dennis George of Johannesburg.

They say never trust a seaman when he tells a story, because you can be sure there will be a few “extra” details to keep his audience captivated.

However, this was not the case at a reunion of former Safmarine seamen who shared similar stories of their life at sea.

The old buddies and colleagues reconnected at a bring and braai and karaoke, on the South Peninsula Sports Field, in Rooikrans Avenue, Grassy Park, on Saturday February 4.

These men always wanted to tell their stories to the world, but during apartheid they couldn’t stand up for their rights.

Some of them said because they needed a job, they “kept quiet” and lived through the discrimination where the work crew were not being able to eat the same food as the captain and his crew, and could only take a day off when they docked at a port.

Young and old, men from all over the Cape as well as one from Johannesburg, shared their stories with the Southern Mail.

Sharckey Harvey, 82, of Grassy Park, said he became a seaman in 1958 and then worked himself up as a bosun, a ship’s officer in charge of equipment and the crew. “That was the highest rank for a coloured person,” he said.

But one of the benefits of sailing is you get to see many countries, he said. He retired in 1972.

Ismail Waja, 81, of Lotus River, said he started as a seaman in 1964. He remembers at the time they didn’t have passports. “We had to present a seaman’s ID”.

Paul Frantz, 72, of Mitchell’s Plain, said he started in 1961 as a galley boy in the kitchen. “My dad was a chef and he brought me on the boat.”

Valentino Clarke, 62, of Blue Downs, said he had worked at the General Post Office at the age of 13 but at 16 he left and joined Safmarine in 1970. “I was a peggy or deck boy. I cleaned the deck tables. But I loved to travel to different places.”

Brackenfell resident James Solomon, better known as Ginger, 76, said he always wanted to be a seaman since he was 16 years old, when he watched the boats come in and out of the harbour, from Signal Hill.

He grew up in Wale Street, Bo-Kaap, but when they moved to Kensington when he was 19 years old, and was curious to know what it would be like to be at sea, he ran away and joined Safmarine. “I started as an able (AB) seaman. My brother Wally Solomon was a bosun.

“I learnt a lot about people and how they behave.”

He said during apartheid, South Africa was sanctioned by many countries where they were not allowed to enter. “I decided after eight years at sea, that I wanted a family. I got a job as a welder and got married and I had three children.”

Daniel Martin, 68, started in 1969 and he climbed the ladder after he started as a galley boy, then became a third cook, a second cook and then head chef. “I was a quick learner and I cooked well.”

He said if a chef doesn’t cook well then he will be called afterwards by the crew and taken out for drinks, and they will beat him up. “That never happened to me.”

Although he wasn’t a bad chef, his nickname was “Gimba” (usually someone who eats a lot).