Steenberg’s unsung heroes share their stories

From left, are René Williams, John Mathyse, Theresa Jones, Glenda Malan, Noel Isaacs, Berenice Blaauw, Moriedah Dien, Gerald Martin, Keanan Jonas and Raphael Wolf.
Deon Rushin launched the “unsung heroes” project.

Steenberg’s “unsung heroes” have been given a chance to tell their stories.

Deon Rushin, from Steenberg Community Forum, a non-profit organisation, launched a project to honour people in the community who have shown kindness towards others through selfless deeds and sterling work.

Mr Rushin says he realised some people who were doing extraordinary things in their lives were not acknowledged, so the Steenberg Community Forum launched an appeal in the Southern Mail and on Facebook for the community to nominate worthy candidates.

Five men and five women were chosen as these “unsung heroes” and they told their stories earlier this month at the Steenberg Scouts Hall.

Gerard Martin, 67, from Seawinds, has been running for over 30 years. He was a road runner and started running in the 1980s. “I still run but due to Covid, we have been less active.”

Mr Martin, a member of the Metropolitan Athletics Club. He has 32 ultra (56km) marathons and 11 Comrades marathons under his belt and his motto is “aanhouer wen (consistency is key)”

“I have a passion to run and when I started I became addicted to running,” he says. “I feel much healthier, and my dream is to one day coach the youth in any kind of sport.”

Glenda Malan, 72, of Steenberg changed her life for the better after battling substance abuse. “I was an alcoholic and living on the streets. My family didn’t want anything to do with me.”

However, about 30 years ago, her life took a turn for the better when she woke up one Sunday morning. “God saved my soul. I was very confused and hungover, and I just felt there was something different about me. I cleaned myself. I walked from Woodlands, Mitchell’s Plain, where I was sleeping in a shack, to my mother’s house in Steenberg and told my mom I am coming home. I was nearing 50 and I’ve lost my husband and children.

“My mother said I could come back if I was sober. Since that time, 30 years ago I have been sober.”

Ms Malan is a lecturer at a bible college. She helps Peter Martin, secretary of Steenberg Community Forum, feed street children. “We also give them talks about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. We play games etc. I hope whatever I teach them, will stick with them.”

She is now back with her children who have accepted her back into their lives. “Don’t think there is no way out (of a predicament) because there is always a way out.”

Raphael Wolf, 72, of Steenberg, lives by the motto, “never give up”, and after struggling for 18 years to become a journalist, he succeeded, working for Cape Community Newspapers (CCN), which publishes the Southern Mail, for 13 years and five years for a daily newspaper.

Mr Wolf started off working as a casual filing clerk, at the Cape Times, in 1983 and in 1986 he was appointed postal clerk for the Cape Argus.

“Getting into journalism was not easy,” he says. “I applied at a cadet school, but wasn’t accepted. But when the Irish took over Independent Newspapers, the idea was presented that if you are capable, they will promote you to a position in any department. I applied at the Argus and wrote to the editor, Moegsien Williams, to write for the dailies, but was not accepted.”

Mr Wolf did not give up. He obtained his diploma in journalism after a three-month course at Damelin College.

He wrote for the company’s in-house magazine and his “love for the written word” kept his passion to become a journalist alive. “I love reading and always have a big library at my house.”

The then deputy editor of CCN, Mansoor Jaffer, gave him the opportunity to work for three months on a trial period, spending three days as a postal clerk and two days at CCN, from October to December, in 1999.

“A position for a reporter became vacant and in March 2000 I got the job.”

Meeting Nelson Mandela was a highlight of his career. “When Madiba visited, I was at a reception room, and able to shake his hand,” he says.

He was also given a chance to visit Los Angeles and Amsterdam in 2005.

“I never gave up. I fought for 18 years, and I never ever gave up hope. I kept on trying, and I was confident I could do the job. I got a knock at the door to get in,” he says. “If you’ve made up your mind, go for it.”

Noel Isaacs, 56, principal of Floreat Primary School, has been in the teaching profession for 34 years. In 2007, he was appointed at Floreat Primary.

Mr Isaacs grew up in Steenberg and is keenly aware of the need in the community. Children facing social ills need to “think bigger than themselves,” and believe in themselves, he says.

When he started at Floreat, there were only 500 pupils; now there are 900.

“It was a collective effort of the staff and myself to be committed and professional. We encouraged the children to enter competitions such as Growsmart and we were successful – we won medals for science and maths.”

Mr Isaacs says his pupils excel in getting scholarships to schools such as Herschel Girls and Cape Academy as well as South Peninsula and Steenberg high schools.

Being dogmatic in his approach to teaching children to keep on studying, Mr Isaacs, is setting the example. “I am busy doing my Master’s,” he says. “Your hard work and attitude create opportunity.”

Keanan Jonas, 30, from Steenberg, is a troop scouter at 1st Steenberg Scouts.

“It all started many years ago. Scouting has been part of my family for generations. I started at the age of 9.”

Mr Jonas says many people don’t know what scouting is about, but “basically it’s creating leaders and outdoor teaching. Due to the scouts movement, many of our boys and girls got the opportunity to fly micro planes, hike 12 days in the Cederberg, overnight camp on a yacht while sailing to places like Yzerfontein, etc. So yes, lots of fun.”

Mr Jonas wants young people to take responsibility for their community. “There are many challenges in Steenberg, but I believe if the youth take ownership, 50% of the battle is won against crime in Steenberg,” he says.

“Many great women and men came from Steenberg such as doctors, professors, soccer players, etc.”